Cochlear Implants

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2002 National Disabled Members' Conference
27 June 2002

UNISON’s policy has long established the union’s support for the Social Model of Disability. The National Disabled Members Committee (NDMC) has been instrumental in advising the Union about how to promote the rehabilitation of the environment and eliminate other barriers that deny disabled people civil rights rather than promote the rehabilitation of the disabled person or their impairment or condition.

This Conference is concerned that some health care practices continue to view some disabled people as a problem and offer medical treatment that is intended to mend broken people rather than build positive attitude to diversity.

This Conference notes that cochlear implants are a technical aid that aim to improve hearing in adults and children; similar to a hearing aid but involving a procedure that includes an operation at the back of the ear to implant the technical piece of equipment into the cochlear. A magnetic connector is then attached to the outer skin behind the ear and wired to a transmitter. The sound waves come into the transmitter which then passes the information into the cochlear and the message is then transmitted to the brain, whether it be the sound of music, conversation or other noise.

Whilst deemed to be successful for some deaf people, they are often not successful for others. Associated problems include:

1)Damage to nerves, partial facial paralysis, psychological damage, loss of balance, mild eczema and so on;

2)Substantial auditory benefit cannot be guaranteed;

3)Implanted children often derive little or no benefit from the implantation, even after long auditory therapy, so they do not in fact gain enough access to language at the critical age for language acquisition using the oral method;

4)Due to the length of therapy, some children who might benefit from cochlear implant may realise the benefit only after they passed the critical age for language acquisition using the oral method;

5)People who are implanted face risk from very strong magnetic fields, due either to pulling of magnetisable metals by the magnetic field or to induction currents from time-varying magnetic fields. Thus they cannot safely work at jobs which require working with very strong magnetic fields;

6)The MRI non- invasive medical examination method is dangerous to people with implants, due do its usage of very strong magnetic fields;

7)The long-range safety of the procedure in children has not been established conclusively, especially the long-range effects, and in particular, the effect of the child’s growth on positioning of the implant in the cochlea;

8)Implanting a child may cause her/his parents and teachers to neglect more traditional, and successful, methods of deaf education, in the mistaken belief that the child can be considered to be ‘hearing’;

9)The implanted child is contracted for life to a group of medical experts who will monitor the cochlear implant and adjust the speech processor;

10)The child may have a negative self-image imposed by having invasive surgery to implant a device to partially correct an abnormality. Children brought up to be proud about being deaf can have a much healthier self-image and self-confidence than those told by the medical profession that they are in some way defective and that they need to be cured;

11)An implanted child is liable to being labelled or teased about having an implant in the ear and carrying a signal processor;

This Conference supports the deaf community’s view that, given these problems, there is a need for better information and for counselling involving deaf people and people who have undergone cochlear implants both successfully and unsuccessfully. The deaf community believes that the medical profession gives biased advice based on the prejudice that deafness is something to be cured rather than something to be proud about.

This Conference further supports The Federation of Deaf People’s policy which is that deaf children should be better informed and made aware of their rights. We also support the Federation’s policy that cochlear implants should not be available until the person reaches adulthood as it is at this point they can have a more balanced and informed choice about their own life.

Conference instructs the NDMC to continue to campaign for deaf people’s rights by:

a)Re-stating the disabled members’ self-organised group’s commitment to the national union’s policy for British Sign Language to be officially recognised as the fourth indigenous language of the United Kingdom;

b)Using the union’s political connections to lobby for British Sign Language to be taught in schools to all school students as part of the national curriculum;

c)Supporting work with statutory and voluntary deaf organisations in carrying out research into the effects of children being given cochlear implants. In particular this should consider the following:

i)Advice and information given by medical profession;

ii)Access to deaf people and cochlear implant people for peer support and so on;

iii)Success rates of cochlear implants;

iv)Training and guidance given to medical and other professionals;

v)Ethical and legal arguments to ensure a fair balance between the role of parents with the rights of the child.

d)Raising awareness amongst UNISON members of th