This segment originally aired Jan. 25, 2016, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.
Today, more than 40 percent of American children born deaf receive cochlear implants. The technology effectively restores hearing by bypassing the ear and delivering audio information directly to the brain. The vast majority of deaf children who are implanted develop hearing and speaking skills comparable to their hearing peers, thus allowing them the option to “mainstream” into normal schools.
Deaf education in the U.S. has gone through many phases. American Sign Language (ASL) is currently the dominant mode of instruction in deaf schools, but there have been periods where ASL was banned and students were forced to speak and lip-read, an ineffective approach known as oralism. ASL has now gained legitimacy and been shown to include the deep grammar and syntax found in spoken languages. It is also the wellspring of deaf culture, a proud community wary of historical attempts to assimilate them into a hearing world.
As more parents opt for cochlear implants, VICE News explores their impact on the medical condition that gave rise to a cultural identity.