If you came across the Sunday New York Times‘ Travel section this week, you may have read the can-do article, Deaf Divers Sign in the Soundless Depths. Worldwide Dive and Sail is one of a handful of companies that organizes regular scuba diving tips for deaf and hard of hearing divers.
This story is a great example of people with disabilities who accomplish feats like exotic water sports, and I thought it was great that Siren offered sign language interpreters as well as expeditions in which deaf and hearing divers could mingle. After all, when you’re swimming with the fishes in the cold, deep sea, no talking is allowed — and deaf people who sign actually have an advantage over hearing divers.
I would be remiss, however, if I didn’t call out something that my surgeon told me upon receiving my own cochlear implant in 2002: Don’t participate in “pressure” sports like scuba or sky diving. That’s because a cochlear implant is made up of both an internal (“implanted”) electrode and an external processor, which looks like a hearing aid. Pressure sports, and even contact sports like football, can cause the implant to become displaced or break.
One provider of cochlear implants, Cochlear Corp. says diving is allowed up to 99 feet, which is fine for the majority of leisure scuba divers. According to a blog in which Cochlear Corp. has been quoted: “The electrode could get extruded from the cochlea or the implant displaced. The acceleration may also cause the recipient’s head to be either pressed firmly against another object or to impact with another object. … Penetrating a water surface during diving … headfirst could cause severe pressure on the implant package [and] may cause damage to the implant and could result in failure of the receiver stimulator package.”
The company does offer a workaround — a helmet — to reduce impact, though I don’t know how easy this would be to pull off when scuba diving. In any case, I’ve obeyed my doctor’s orders, figuring that the gift of hearing outweighs any thrill I might get from an adventurous dive. I’ve also reasoned that I don’t need to dive — or hear — to enjoy the ocean’s beauty. Being on the water is a solitary and peaceful experience; I still swim, boat and kayak. I love to crest upon rhythmic waves and inhale cold, salty sea spray.
If you’re deaf and don’t have an implant — swim away (and send me a postcard!) If you do, please make sure you ask your doctor if he or she recommends scuba diving. Other options include snorkeling, parasailing, kayaking, which all are activities offered by many large resorts and vacation spots. These are less pressure-intensive experiences that will be just as fun, without harming your cochlear implant.