Hearing parents have often asked me things like, "Why is the Deaf community so against cochlear implants?","Why don't they want children to hear?" and "Don't they want children to have access to the best opportunities or to 'be happy'?" Often the stricter Deaf community members' stance on cochlear implants appears to be a reactionary one, a movement resulting from feeling threatened. But in reality, I think the Deaf community's position is concerned is less with the basic technology and use of cochlear implants and more with educational and medical professionals' and parents of deaf children's view on cochlear implants as a "cure for deafness."
Of course, cultural concerns do strike an emotional chord with the community; as more children are implanted and mainstreamed, deaf schools across the country are closing, preventing deaf children from being exposed to their peers and Deaf culture, and therefore robbed of the opportunity to be involved in the Deaf community at all. The viewpoint that deafness is not a disability but a way of life, the right to choose, the importance of social interaction with like peers, and the extinction of ASL as a language are all important social concerns with outcomes contingent upon the proliferation of implantation. However, the biggest issue at hand is the well-being of the child. This is where the real problem with blanket recommendations for cochlear implantation lies.
Here is an example of what speech and music sound like to the average cochlear implant user:
Everyone is different, but according to the House Research Institute (formerly the House Ear Institute), the average user is in the 8 channel range. Additionally, these samples contain slow, clear speech and no background noise, which are optimal, but not always attainable listening conditions. The success of processing and understanding sound (and developing verbal language in this manner) is even lower for children with cognitive impairments or other disabilities.
To listen to more speech and music simulations from the HRI, click here.
Cochlear implants do help deaf people hear. But I imagine most hearing people would find notable differences between natural speech and music and the sound picked up and processed by implants. This is why it's important that cochlear implants be used as a tool to aid in communication, not as a way to fix deafness. A child who is given an implant and not taught sign language will still not have full access to language. And without fully developed linguistic abilities, he or she will almost always fall behind in other areas of academic and social development.
So in answer to the question, "Don't Deaf people want children to have access to the best opportunities?" I believe the answer is a resounding yes. Cochlear implants are not bad or evil, but they are not a cure-all, and they do become problematic when used as such. Learning language solely through the partial information provided by a cochlear implant can be a frustrating process. A deaf child should have full access to language and all the opportunities that come along with strong communication skills. This means using a combination of technology and ASL and whatever means necessary to give a child the education he or she deserves. A forced dependence on technology and a strict audio-verbal/ oral curriculum can be just as limiting as strict oralist professionals have deemed ASL-centric education to be.