Academic journal article American Annals of the Deaf

Entertainment Television and Hearing Students' Attitudes regarding the Pediatric Cochlear Implant

Academic journal article American Annals of the Deaf

Entertainment Television and Hearing Students' Attitudes regarding the Pediatric Cochlear Implant

Article excerpt

The cochlear implant, a bionic technology that restores sound sensation in some patients, has become ethically controversial in the 20 years since its introduction. This controversy recently has entered American entertainment culture, with the issue of pediatric implants emerging in episodes of popular IV programs. This pilot study examines the effects of one such TV episode on the attitudes of hearing college students with minimal prior exposure to the controversy, using a posttest-only control group design. The control group (N = 17) watched an unrelated entertainment video and filled out an original 10-item attitude scale. The treatment group (N = 18), which viewed an episode of the dramatic series Gideon's Crossing addressing the cochlear implant issue, also filled out the attitude scale. A t test was applied, and it was determined that no significant difference existed between the two groups' attitudes regarding pediatric cochlear implants. Although there was wide variability on individual items, overall scores indicated that both groups were neutral, or undecided, regarding cochlear implantation in children.

Cochlear implants, particularly pediatric implants, are a controversial topic among both deaf and hearing people. For many late-deafened people, the implant offers the hope of regaining some measure of their former life. Conversely, some culturally Deaf people view it as a threat to their existence.

Since its advent, the cochlear implant has been a source of interest to the information and entertainment media. In recent years, story lines concerning the implant have begun to appear on entertainment television. The present study measures the effect of a recent popular television program on the attitudes of hearing college students with little or no exposure to deafness or the ethical debates around the pediatric cochlear implant.

The Cochlear Implant: An Overview

Designed by Australian scientists, the cochlear implant was introduced in the early 1980s (Brusky, 1995). As of 1995, approximately 7,000 adults and 2,000 children had been implanted in America; today, the overall U.S. total is estimated at 36,000. Cochlear implantation requires a surgical procedure, the regular use of assistive equipment, and an extended period of follow-up aural and speech therapy (Moores, 2001; Vernon & Alles, 1991). To place the implant, surgeons open a skin flap behind the ear, drill through the skull, and perform a partial mastoidectomy. A wire electrode array is then inserted into the cochlea. Barring any complications, the implant procedure costs around $30,000 (Vernon & Alles, 1991), takes about 3 hours, requires the administration of general anesthesia, and entails an overnight stay at a hospital (Moores, 2001). In a study of 80 recipients, complications such as infection, facial nerve paralysis, an altered sense of taste, respiratory problems, tinnitus, vertigo, and cerebrospinal leakage occurred in about one fourth of the cases (Moores, 2001).

Following surgery, implant recipients are fitted with a behind-the-ear microphone, a transmitter coil that attaches to the head magnetically, and a microcomputer resembling a Sony Walkman that is worn on the belt or in a pocket (Moores, 2001). In order to use this external equipment, the implant recipient must undergo a period of extensive multidisciplinary rehabilitation therapy (Vernon & Alles, 1991).

To compound the controversy over implants, there is disagreement among professionals over how to define the success of the technology (Lane, 1995; Tyler, 1993). Hearing sounds is not the same thing as comprehending spoken language, and we emphasize that the implant does not restore hearing (Tyler, 1993). Rather, it provides sound sensation to the brain through electronic means that bypass the inner ear (National Association of the Deaf, 2000). These sounds are not identical to what hearing people experience.

Issues Surrounding Cochlear Implantation

Defining Functional Success

In a study of functional communication in students with cochlear implants, specific external conditions were identified that had an impact on whether children used their implant in the classroom for communication purposes, or primarily for environmental sound awareness (Easterbrooks & Mordica, 2000). …

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