” The reason most people assume that I know sign language is because people with cochlear implants and who use listening and spoken language are NOT well represented in the US media.” We talk with Jessica Chaikof, a junior majoring in sociology and a minor in chemistry at Wheaton College (MA), about life with cochlear implants.
SA: As a cochlear implant user, what was the hardest part of high school for you? Your older sister is also deaf and a cochlear implant user, has that strengthened your relationship?
JC: I went to a mainstream high school that housed a deaf program with a focus on deaf culture and signing in my freshman year because my teacher of the deaf was studying full-time that year and could not fit me into her schedule, the year I moved. I was in this deaf culture program until we realized it was not a good fit for me. The hardest part in my freshman year of high school was not having a friend who was like me, meaning someone who had cochlear implants and also used listening and spoken language.
After I left the deaf culture program, I began to make some close friends at the high school. While I truly wished I had somebody who understood what I was going through – my experience in the deaf culture program was not a waste because I became close friends with a girl, who eventually decided to get a cochlear implant and is doing amazingly well with it.
Since my older sister is deaf and has Usher Syndrome as well, we both share a bond through that. Often I will go to her for advice on school or life in general. I definitely appreciate having someone at home, who I can talk to and understands what I am going through.
SA: What’s your biggest issue with how people perceive you? What would you change in this regard if you could?
JC: My biggest issue is that most people assume that all deaf people know American Sign Language (ASL), and I do not know or use any ASL. In most of the TV shows, movies, and books I have read or watched, there is not a single character like me. While most people have argued that shows like Switched At Birth represent deaf people, it is only deaf and signing people. To change this, we need equal media representation for both groups: the deaf culture group and the listening and spoken language group.
SA: At your university, what accommodations are available to you and which ones do you actually use?
JC: The accommodation my college provides for deaf or hard of hearing students are note-takers, an FM system for amplification, and a CART reporter. I use the FM system for every single class but depending on the classes I am taking, I will either choose a note taker or CART. For lecture based classes such as chemistry or calculus, I’ll use a note-taker, which is a fellow student who takes notes for me then for discussion-based classes like my sociology courses, I’ll use CART to make sure I get the entire discussion.
SA: Do you consider your deafness a large part of your life? Why or why not?
JC: I do consider my deafness to be a part of my life to some degree, but I do not consider it to be a major part of it. I do identify as being deaf because it’s on a medical form and is not going anywhere, but I refuse to let it define me. I identify as being mostly part of the hearing world because that is where my life is. Even though I do have friends with cochlear implants and we often joke about the ridiculous issues [questions] that we go through on a daily basis.
SA: Do you see yourself doing what you love as a career? Why, or why not?
JC: I recently changed my major from chemistry to sociology because I wanted to focus more on the social justice and change realm. Last semester I took a sociology class, Race and Ethnicity, and I absolutely loved it. I remember on the last day, I could not leave the classroom. My goal is for a career in teaching at college level in sociology or something that involves working with social justice. I am not sure yet, but I do know that none of my career choices would be possible without the decisions that my parents made for me and my sister to get cochlear implants and to learn to listen and talk when we were infants.
(Interview compiled by Miranda Meyers).