While cochlear implants significantly improve your hearing, explaining to your peers how they can effectively communicate with you can build stronger relationships. But, it’s up to you how much you want to share with your friends, dormmates, classmates, and acquaintances about your cochlear implants. It’s also up to you to decide to whom and how often you want to talk about your cochlear implants and with whom you want to be friends.
For example, when Katie left for college, she wants to be completely independent and not defined by her use of cochlear implants. Upon arriving at school, the only peer she tells about her cochlear implants is her roommate since she sees Katie taking her cochlear implants off, performing maintenance tasks, and putting them on.
However, during the first couple days of school, Katie finds herself overwhelmed whenever she hangs out with peers. The environments are often loud and she finds herself missing chunks of conversation. Katie’s peers don’t understand why she seems to react unusually during certain conversations.
After these first couple of rough days, Katie decides she needs to change her approach to create strong relationships and build friendships. She informs her dormmates at the next hall meeting that she has cochlear implants and gives them a few tips to help her hear better in social situations. While Katie does not always preface her conversations with the fact that she has cochlear implants, she does tell those peers that she feels she had a connection with about her cochlear implants.
If you decide to tell your peers about your cochlear implant, the sooner you explain to them how they can help, the less likely you are to have communication breakdowns.
Depending on your level of comfort, you may choose to explain to multiple peers at once how they can most effectively communicate with you. For example, if you are living in a dorm it is likely that you will have a dorm meeting at the beginning of the year. This is a good time to explain your communication and safety needs. Since you are likely to be around your dormmates a lot in your first year, effectively communicating with them will be very important. If this makes you uncomfortable, you should seek out your peers to explain individually or in groups of two or three.
As a student with cochlear implants, you have explained to numerous peers over the years what a cochlear implant is and how it helps you hear. Your peers may have various levels of knowledge and interest in the workings of a cochlear implant. We provide diagrams in the Resources section that you can share with interested peers.
The most important information to your peers will be the best ways to communicate with you. Here’s a list of suggestions you can share with your peers – you should pick the ones that work best for you.
You should establish strong two-way communication with your peers so that they are comfortable asking you for suggestions on how to improve communication and you’re comfortable telling them when you’re unable to hear and understand them. You should also suggest your preferred communication methods, such as instant messaging, texting, and e-mail.
Going to college gives students freedom to explore new ideas, opportunities, and lifestyles. For some students with cochlear implants this period of exploration may include developing a new hearing identity. To varying degrees, students with cochlear implants may choose to identify with the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community, disclose and discuss their cochlear implants, and acknowledge their need for accommodations.
However, we suggest you develop an understanding of your hearing strengths and challenges, and self-advocacy skills to request accommodations, whether from the college or in daily interactions, to ensure you maximize your college experience. Self-advocacy skills will help you succeed academically, socially, and in your future.
Based on your assessment of your listening strengths, it may be advantageous to disclose your use of cochlear implants to peers, faculty, and administrators. As a college student it is your choice and responsibility to disclose your cochlear implant use and hearing challenges to the Office of Disability Services if you wish to receive accommodations. Doing so prevents academic and social difficulties and maximizes the opportunities available to you in college.