Cochlear Implants Protest in France

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(The article below was contributed by at 10 Jan 1994.)

Here is a long article about the cochlear implants protest in France. I find it hard not to share it with you. It is a very interesting and inspiring story.

"Sourds en Colere" means "[French] Deaf People in Anger" in French.

The article consists about 220 lines. I will send it into 3 parts. Happy Reading!

The article below is reprinted with permission from TBC, The Bicultural Center. TBC News November 1993.


Almost 800 Deaf people demonstrated on the afternoon of October 16th at Lyon, in France. The Deaf coalition, "Sourds en colere" (Deaf Anger) organized the demonstration because that day in the medical university in Lyon, the First National Information Day on Cochlear Implants was held. Participating in the conference were Dr. Chouard ("Father of the Cochlear Implants"), Dr. Morgon and Dr. Fuguain, who've all held positions on the importance of implanting Deaf children as early as possible and who refuse to accept the idea of Deaf Culture.

The Following report was sent to us by Christine Spink-MItchell.

Preparation of the Demo:

Sourds en Colere met every Wednesday night for months before the scheduled national demonatration. Our biggest task was informing Deaf groups of the demo and explaining the urgency of the fight against cochlear implants on Deaf children, getting people to organize within their cities (transportation, banners, etc.) A few of us made a video explaining the importance of this action and the organization, and sent it off to all major French deaf organization, along with flyers and posters which they made copies of and distributed. We had 500 T-shirts made with our logo: a fist shattering a blue triangle (the blue triangle was attached to all handicapped and Deaf people sent to concentration camps during World War II).

Just before the demonstration, in Paris as well as Lyon and a few other major French cities, posters were wheatpasted in as many places as possible. We targeted neighborhoods where we knew as many Deaf people as possible were likely to see them - schools, hang-outs, D/deaf organization offices (including those supporting cochlear implants). Reactions were very strong. In some schools, the director made a point of going into each class to "brainwash" the children with images of Sourds en colere as an extremely violent, out of control group. Anpeda, an organization for hearing parents of deaf children (who, incidentally, have loads of money and who support cochlear implants), was furious, and treated us as immature and violent. One thing was clear - the hearing organizations and power structures which assume control over the Deaf community felt extremely threatened by our action and mere existence.

We made a point of making a complete press book describing Deaf Culture and history, cochlear implants, our group's mode of action, and how media must change its portrayal of the Deaf community as its view has been pathological and destructive. We sent out over 150 press packets the week before the action. As a few of us are members of ACT-UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power), our spokespeople for the demonstration had already gone through training on how to deal with the media.

The Action:

The day was sure to be exhausting: Twenty of us were meeting at 8 a.m. to go to the conference; a general meeting at 9 a.m. was held in front of the train station to welcome those coming from different cities; the demonstration was scheduled for 2 p.m.; everyone was asked to come to a community center for a final wrap-up at 9 p.m.

The Conference:

The conference organizers felt very threatened by our presence and came outside to meet us and deliver long speeches about the importance of non-vio lence and how we live in a democracy where everyone has a right to their expression.

We stayed very calm, and explained our situation: we had signed up 20 people, but their registrations were refused and sent back to us. The organizers claimed that they had been received after the deadline, but this was false, since other people who sent in their registration on the same day were admitted with no problem. Later, the conference oranizers admitted that they were scared we "...would be too violent." A few days before the conference they changed their position and called the Deaf- Federation to re-invite us, fearing that we might be even more "violent" if they didn't let some of us in.

We explained that we weren't there to be violent, but simply to participate and express our views. It was agreed upon that we would be let in and could take a stand at a given time. But, when the time came to enter the conference site, our entry was refused by Dr. Morgon, the same person who'd drowned us in his speeches that morning. Amongest us were a few hearing people who told us that he told the organizers, "I don't want those people in there!" Finally, he permitted 5 people to go in. "But only five," he said, "for security rea sons!", claiming the room was full.

Half an hour later, Emmanuelle Laborit, a famous Deaf actress, arrived with her parents, both hearing and both doctors. They asked if they could regis- ter, and Dr. Morgon showed them in, saying, "I personally invite you." Upon that, Ms. Laborit said, "We won't go in without the Deaf people here," which sent Dr. Morgon into a fit of fury, accusing them of blackmail.

The tension was rising, and a few people pulled out their whistles to disturb the conference and put more pressure on them to let everyone inside. We had a contact person in charge of the media, and he was keeping them informed. A Television cameraman arrived, and finally the opened the doors for all - after a three-hour wait!

Five of us were present inside as Bruno Moncelle (responsible for Sourds en colere) tried to address Drs. Chouard and Morgon. He asked them why the "Hurriet Law" (established in 1988 to protect the rights of people who volunteer to participate in medical research, guaranteeing their rights to all existing information and decisional power) is not applied to cochlear implants patients. He also asked them to explain the term "indeces neuronaux" (neuro- nal indicators) which is the basis of the cochlear implant. While he asked his questions, the microphone of Bruno's interpreter was shut off, and one of the doctors shouted, "Get them out of here"

Emmanuelle Laborit stood up several times, but each time she was made to sit back down. Once they even turned the lights off and announced a coffee break.

They had the same reaction when a member of our group, implanted at the age of 12, now 20, wanted to share the problems he had for years after his operation.

One father practically stood on the table to get him out of the room.

It was very depressing to see how systematically the parents at the conference would place themselves on the side of the doctors, not hesitating for a second to see what disrespect the doctors showed for Deaf people. Several times, Dr. Chouard interrupted Deaf people outside of the conference room, telling them to "...Go get an implant, and we can talk afterwards." Arlette Morel, the president of the FNSF (National Deaf Federation), was explaining her position on the implanation of Deaf children, and Dr. Chouard told her, "Excuse me, but why don't you send me your audiograms. I'm sure an implant would look splendid on you." And with that comment, he walked away.

We left at noon, after a few TV interviews, still in awe over how degrading they had all been toward us. After lunch, we headed towards the train station, the gathering place for the demonstration.

The Demonstration:

About 300 people were there at 2 p.m., although many more joined us proges- sively. Bruno Moncelle, Emmanuelle Laborit, and several other Deaf activisits explained their positions on cochlear implants and the importance of an active Deaf community. Half an hour, we were off: We arrived at the City Hall where we originally expected to be met by the mayor, Michel Noir, as well as an assistant of the mayor on "handicap" issues, Mr. Rongionne, and the director of the hospital where the conference was held that day. It turned out that only Mr. Rongionne offered to listen to a delegation, and so a group met with him for almost an hour.

Meanwhile, in front of the building, about 600 of us watched mime skits depiciting the doctors who perform cochlear implants as pwoer/money-hungry people operating on hundreds of blood-covered children, over and over again. People passing by received flyers describing the politics of cochlear implants and Deaf community issues. Finally, the delegation of 10 came out, followed by Mr. Rongionne, who had been asked to come outside to watch as a young man hammered the box attached to his cochlear implant. This was probably the most emtional moment of the demonstration, and afterwards, many people rushed over to hug the young man, with pieces of the box shattered around his feet.

Moncelle then repeated what he had just told Mr. Rongionne: "The Deaf Communi ty is tired of being trampled on by doctors! We're tired of having to carry the image portrayed of Deaf people by doctors and the media, tired of hearing people having all the power over us, and we're not going to sit back and watch this time - after the banning of Sign Language in 1880!"

The Revenge:

The police were surprisely cooperative with us. We decided to all take the metro to join the conference, as it would soon be coming to an end. They helped us get there in separate groups. We arrived just in time - they were just starting to leave from the main doors. The doors of the gate surrounding the university were closed, however, so we made a human chain around it. Dr. Morgon, the man who had refused to register us that morning and later allowed five people in, asked that the special riot police, the CRS, be called. A police offier there responded that there was no reason to call the CRS, as there was no violence. Bruno Moncelle took the opportunity to talk to Dr. Morgon, saying, "You let five of us in this morning, so we'll let five of you out!" Morgon exploded, demanding the CRS once again, Again the police offi- cer refused, and added, "You choose five people. The rest of you will have to wait inside." We formed two human chains from the gate where they would exit.

Each of the five people, protected by four police officers, had to go through a tunnel of about 50 yards of Deaf people, whistling away.

The Aftermath:

A few hundred Deaf people met at 9 p.m. at a community center. There, Bruno Moncelle described the issues surrounding cochlear implants and what strategy could be taken to fight against it. We introduced each person who had been involved in the planning of this action, and spoke of the plans we have for future actions of Sourds en colere. People stayed and socialized for several hours before heading back to their hometowns.

The Media Response:

It was very difficult to get the media interested in these issues for various reasons. They found it too technical, they didn't understand the social issues at hand, or they didn't dare to take a stand, finding it much too sensitive a subject to explore. Some even compared it to the issue of abortion. Some TV stations did report on the demonstration, including a few local stations and a cable channel. We feel that we should have received more coverage.

There was very negative response from a regional newspaper. We suspect that they journalist had personal links with the people organizing the conference, for his article stated that we were a violent group who refuse all dialogue, inspired by (can you believe it?) American anti-abortion groups. One horror after another. We've written a response and are working with a lawyer now to make sure it will get published.


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2005 Dec 1