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22 years of the Bionic Ear -

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22 years of the Bionic Ear

Reporter: Dr Graham Phillips

Producer: Simon Watt

Researcher: Anja Taylor

Camera: Don Whitehurst

Sound: John Peterson

Editor: Ben Eriksen


Related Info

5 April 2007

In 1986 ABC's Quantum featured a story on Professor Graeme Clark's new invention - the now famous
bionic ear - which for the first time enabled the profoundly deaf to hear sounds and understand

In the 22 years since its introduction, this amazing device has brought hearing to tens of
thousands of deaf people in more than 120 countries.

In a recent study at the University of Melbourne, researchers showed that 11 profoundly deaf
children, who received the implant under the age of one, had entirely normal language development -
at least until the ages of 4 and 5.

Graham Phillips meets some delightful little tackers whose lives have been changed by the
miraculous bionic ear.


Dr Graham Phillips: Back in 1985 Quantum covered a story on this futuristic new technology called
the bionic ear. Of course it's become world famous since then, well, we take a look at just how far
the cochlear implants come a device that's helped the profoundly deaf hear and speak.

Narration: The program looked at the work of the pioneer of the bionic ear Graeme Clark, in
particular followed the journey of 14-year-old Peter Searle, at the time the youngest recipient of
a cochlear ear implant.

Ex Quantum: Today's switch on is to establish one thing only, does the technology work? Does it
give Peter any sound at all?

(Waiting, the checking of instruments and then Peter Searle hears..then Peter reacts).

His operation as the youngest deaf person to receive the bionic ear has given new hope to other
children. Many who like Peter were deaf before they developed language.

We can't end deafness. But hopefully by the year 2000 we can so help them communicate that they can
operate as a nor, near normal hearing person.

Narration: 22 years later it seems that Professor Clark's dream may have been realised.

Dr Graham Phillips: You wouldn't know to look at them, nor when you talk to them and especially not
when you play with them but both 6-year-old Gabriel Stripp and 5-year-old Ethan Moss are profoundly

Narration: I'll make a quick one you can make the next one. Alright so is this how I do it?

Gabriel: No that's the silly way.

Dr Graham Phillips: Now neither of the boys had one of these old style bionic ears from 22 years
ago. That was just the speech processing unit the computer power, you had to wear that clipped
you're your belt. All of this has been replaced by this tiny device that just sits behind the ear.
In fact the computer power in here is thousands of times anyway.

Assistant in testing room: What will I say first..I'm going to school?

Ethan: (Repeats) I'm going to school.

Professor Richard Dowell: Yeah he interacts extremely well doesn't he? He's really ahead of his
chronological age.

The really terrific thing that's occurred in recent years is with children, because we've now got
children born with no hearing at all who've received a cochlear implant, sometimes two and now
they're just normal kids and they're going to normal schools and having all the opportunities that
really they wouldn't have had 10 or 20 years ago. 4.09

Assistant in testing room: I'm going to say three words are you ready? OK which one's the odd man
out? Moon, star, floor.

Professor Richard Dowell: Language is the most sophisticated thing we ever learn, we don't realise
it we all take it for granted it all happens probably in those first 3 or 4 years of life. And we
understand that now so that if you don't get that good hearing in those first 3 years of life it is
very difficult later on to develop the language.

Professor Richard Dowell: I think for children the outlook is very, very positive indeed, because
we now have the results s that show that early implantation is leading to these excellent outcomes
in terms of speech and language.

Dr Graham Phillips: Can you see the day where the implants are so good it's perfect hearing?

Professor Richard Dowell: You never say never because Professor Graeme Clark was laughed at back 30
years never say never.