My son has a friend that was born deaf. When he was a small child, he had surgery to get cochlear implants. With the implants, he is able to hear. When his younger brother was also born deaf, his parents found that they carried a recessive gene that causes deafness. Both boys were able to receive the cochlear implants. They have developed normal language skills and are able to lead normal lives. Their only restriction is that they cannot play contact sports. I was talking to their mother, and I expressed my awe of medical technology - that deaf people can really hear when wearing the cochlear implant device. She told me that what surprised her most about the Deaf community was that most people who are deaf do not choose to get cochlear implants for their deaf children. There is a pride with being Deaf, and there is a whole close knit Deaf community. They do not see deafness as a handicap, but as uniqueness. Most deaf people are happy in their Deaf community so they want to share it with their children. They do not see deafness as something to be fixed so they usually do not elect to have the surgery. Adults would not benefit as much as children from the implants due to the critical periods for language development being passed. However, some adults have been thankful for the ability to experience hearing with the implants. Therefore, after much resistance, the Deaf community is slowly beginning to accept cochlear implants as a personal choice. I thought that was fascinating.
I saw that the FDA recently approved the use of a “bionic eye”. This device has electrodes that are implanted into the eye via surgery. The user wears glasses which transmits a signal to the electrodes, bypassing the retina. The user can only detect light and dark, not a clear image. It is not a complete solution – one cannot say that medical technology has eradicated blindness – but it is a definite start. It made me wonder how this technology advance will be received by the blind community.
These two examples of profound life changing medical technologies would have been inconceivable even 40 years ago. What will we be able to do in another 40 years, and how will it be received?