A Hero Who Works Against All Obstacles

December 23rd, 2011 by | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment »

I wrote an essay for my high school’s Martin Luther King essay contest.  We had to choose a hero who resembles Martin Luther King.  I chose Graeme Clark.

Jessica met Graeme Clark in 2007.

For a long time the world was silent for people who were profoundly deaf and couldn’t benefit from hearing aids. They could not hear any noises, converse on the phone, listen to music, or communicate in any way other than by writing, signing face to face with American Sign Language, or lip reading. This is what the world was like until 1978 when the first cochlear implant was invented by Professor Graeme Clark. The cochlear implant is a device that is implanted inside a person’s head that enables a deaf person to hear. Clark thought all deaf people should have the opportunity to hear because he wanted them to be able to communicate through talking face to face or on the phone. He also wanted them to be able to listen to music, and hear different kinds of sounds. From Clark’s point of view the deaf community was isolated, frustrated, and treated differently due to their lack of communication with the outside world. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s world was no different from Clark’s. Clark’s invention of the cochlear implant has impacted people from around the world. Both Professor Graeme Clark and Martin Luther King, Jr. were fighting for a goal at a time when some people thought their tasks were beyond impossible and other people were against them.

Graeme Clark was born in Camden in New South Wales, Australia, on August 16, 1935. Most of Clark’s family members were hearing; however, his father, a local pharmacist, was deaf. When Clark was ten years old he worked in the pharmacy with his father, who would often ask customers to speak louder so he could hear them. Since Clark grew up seeing his father’s struggles with deafness and the isolation his father felt, he was inspired to invent the cochlear implant.

Clark dreamed of the idea of inventing a bionic ear piece, in the mid 1960’s, he began his research towards his invention. The first cochlear implant surgery was performed on Rod Saunders, who lost his hearing at age forty-six, in 1978, and was a major success. Saunders’ implant was turned on weeks later, and he was able to recognize the tune “Waltzing Matilda.” The first cochlear implant processor, the outer part, weighed about two pounds, and it was the size of a textbook.  According to statistics there over are 80,000 cochlear implant users as of today, and without Clark’s invention, deaf people wouldn’t have the opportunities that they have currently. A profoundly deaf person is able to communicate face to face without the use of American Sign Language, can listen to music, talk on the phone, or hear any sort of noise that is around him or her.

When Graeme Clark started working on his research for the cochlear implant in the 1960’s, it was at a time when no one thought it possible to invent a device that would enable a deaf person to hear, and Clark was unable to receive any funding for his invention. Clark’s colleagues from the University of Melbourne said to him that the cochlear implant probably would not work because the inner ear was too complex, there were unknown risks, and there would be technological difficulties. Around that same time Martin Luther King, Jr. was fighting for equal rights for all Americans by advocating for African Americans. Before the implant and the Civil Rights movement, both deaf people and African Americans felt that they were treated like outsiders of their own communities. In King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, he says, “One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. […] The Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself in exile in his own land.” King explains that despite the fact slaves were free from slavery at the end of the Civil War, African Americans are still treated like outsiders. Clark recently said that while he was working on his invention, “They used to refer to me as ‘that clown Clark.’” When Clark and King were working towards their goals, not only did people think their goals were impossible, but some were also openly against it.

Professor Graeme Clark has impacted thousands of people in different ways through his invention for instance, me. I was born profoundly deaf. Being deaf is not easy. It has brought me many difficulties in my life. However, if Clark’s invention did not exist I would not be where I am today. I would probably be at a school for deaf students and the only communication that would be available to me would be American Sign Language, which is different from my lifetime of hearing and what I am used to. At the time when I received my cochlear implant I was fifteen months old and the youngest child in the country to receive one. Although I have a cochlear implant and I am able to be like everyone else, I am still at times excluded or made fun of for my deafness. In his “I Have a Dream” speech, King says “I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down at the table of brotherhood.” Thanks to Clark’s invention, I am able to consider myself mostly hearing, but I also have a dream that one day I will be able to go out in public without having to worry about being embarrassed about my deafness. I believe “now is the time” to lift the barriers of separation and unite as a nation of deaf and hearing people.

A hero does not have to be someone who has laser vision or super strength. My definition of a hero is someone who performs an act or deed that benefits others.  Dr. Clark and Dr. King both took a stand for what they truly believed in. Clark continued his work on the cochlear implant even though people said to him it was impossible. King refused to step down from the tasks that were set for him even though he had many obstacles, such as being taken to jail in Birmingham, Alabama. For as King says, “Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. […] to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of justice.”

1 Comment

Barbara Turner

December 11, 2012 at 4:11 am

Dear Professor Clark,
On television THE OTHER NIGHTa new type of hearing device was mentioned for those with broken auditory hair
Can I have more info regarding this matter.
Would north/south magnetic dust/material be able to help stand the broken hair up?
Crazy question but you never know?
Regards Barbara