Book review: Wired for Sound
In the spirit of discovering that everything old is new again, I recently revisited Beverly Biderman’s “Wired for Sound: A Journey into Hearing.” Originally published in 1998 when only about 20,000 people worldwide were using cochlear implants, “Wired for Sound” was recently revised and updated for 2016 with new resources and postscript.
I first read “Wired for Sound” about eight years ago when I was preparing for my own middle ear transducer implant, which has some similarities with a cochlear implant. I remembered the book was powerful, informative and moving back then so I was excited to reread it. I was curious as to why it was being republished now and found out that a new opera called “TMIE – on the threshold of the outside world” by Carlos Alberto Augusto, is based in part on Biderman’s book and life story. The updated and re-released book accompanies the recent opening of the opera in Lisbon, Portugal.
“Wired for Sound” is a solidly written personal account of Canadian author Beverly Biderman’s journey with hearing loss. She was born with normal hearing ability to one hearing parent and one deaf parent, then began to progressively lose her hearing as a young child. She was profoundly deaf by her teenage years. Biderman was raised in a hearing world; she attended regular schools and was not taught sign language. Instead, for over 30 years, she relied on an array of largely self-taught communication techniques mostly centered around lip reading.
After much research and soul-searching, Biderman received her first cochlear implant at the age of 46, immediately plunging her back into the unfamiliar world of sound. She does an excellent job detailing her feelings and emotions in that process, as well as those of others who have had similar experiences at a variety of different ages. Her awakening after being able to hear again is truly moving. Biderman’s road back to hearing didn’t come easily and her book highlights the struggles and challenges she faced daily that naturally come from receiving a cochlear implant after decades of silence.
When Biderman received her first cochlear implant, the technology was new and the adoption rate was low. Today, nearly half a million people have one or two cochlear implants, and most cochlear implant recipients are infants or very young children who were born with profound hearing loss.
In the years since she re-entered the world of hearing and published this book the first time, Biderman has become an influential advocate, crusader and cheerleader for cochlear implant users. Her book is an essential “how-to” manual for adults receiving cochlear implants. The science is accurate and the research and statistics are easy to follow. The personal narrative is clear, straightforward and engaging. Although much of the technology in cochlear implants has changed significantly since this book was first written, the revised version explains the technology improvements very well and doesn’t feel outdated.
In the world of hearing loss in North America, we might sometimes think of people in two categories: the pre-lingually Deaf, who communicate with sign language and have their own unique and vibrant culture, and the hard of hearing, who communicate with speech and usually use hearing aids. This book is a powerful reminder that there are many people like Biderman who fall somewhere in between those two ends of the spectrum. Because she became profoundly deaf after learning to speak and did not use sign language, Biderman offers a unique perspective. In my opinion, Biderman’s chapter devoted to her “outsider” take on the controversy within the Deaf community over cochlear implants is balanced, interesting and easy to understand for those who may be unfamiliar with it.
From the poignant forward (beautifully written by the late hearing health pioneer Dr. John Niparko) that centers around a powerful metaphor to Biderman's fascinating life story, "Wired for Sound," will keep you engaged. The perspective is further enriched by tales from other cochlear implant wearers. Whether you have an interest in cochlear implants or you are simply seeking an honest and pragmatic personal account of a delightful and intelligent woman who could not hear, Biderman’s newly-revised book is well worth the read. If you’re an adult with profound hearing loss who is considering cochlear implants, “Wired for Sound” is an absolute must. Her facts are straight and her style is easy to read. I especially loved her updated resources section. Her recommended reading list of books about living with hearing loss covers the last 40 plus years and may well be the most complete list I’ve ever seen!
If you want to learn more about cochlear implants and determine whether you might qualify, contact a hearing care professional in your area.