Bachelor: How Cochlear Implants Work (& How They Help Abigail)

Abigail Heringer made history on The Bachelor as the first hearing impaired cast member. After receiving Matt James’s first impression rose, Abigail captured the hearts of America as well with her sweet personality. Like Abigail, Bachelor Nation was blindsided when she was sent home without ever receiving a one-on-one date. During the Women Tell All Abigail thanked Matt for his kindness as she opened up to him. She also opened up to Bachelor Nation about being born “profoundly deaf” and living with a cochlear implant.

Chris Harrison may have hosted his very last Women Tell All after he recently announced he would be stepping away from his hosting duties for an unspecified amount of time. In what was possibly his last live show, he graciously gave Abigail a chance to speak about her experience growing up as a non-hearing person. Abigail discussed how she has often felt stuck in the middle between the hearing community and the Deaf community. She explained that the Deaf community (with a capital “D”) are those who only use sign language and cannot communicate vocally. As someone with a cochlear implant, Abigail can hear sounds and communicate vocally, so she hasn’t always felt like she belonged to either group.

Abigail didn’t go into detail about her cochlear implant, except to say that if she takes it off she can’t hear anything at all. Cochlear implants work in a unique and possibly surprising way. Unlike hearing aids, cochlear implants don’t just make sounds louder. For those who are born deaf, louder sounds wouldn’t have any effect. Instead, cochlear implants are actually implanted into the inner ear. They are inserted in the area where hearing people have tiny hair fibers that are able to transform sound waves into recognizable sound. An implant essentially replaces these hairs, and turns sound into electrical currents that your brain is able to make sense of.

A cochlear implant has multiple parts. On the outside of the ear is a microphone, which picks up sounds around you. When Abigail said she wouldn’t be able to hear if she took her implant off, she was referring to this microphone, which can be removed. The part that is implanted processes the sounds that come in from the microphone, selecting the important ones, like speech. Then, a transmitter turns the speech into electric impulses, which are sent to your auditory nerve for your brain to process. It can take a while for new patients to understand the sounds that come in from their implant. For Abigail, she has had her implant for so long that she can understand what people are saying. But like she told Matt James, she sometimes reads lips to make things easier.

Abigail opened up about living with a cochlear implant, and by doing so she made many Bachelor viewers aware of something that isn’t often talked about. While shows like Netflix’s Deaf U have started the process of showcasing Deaf stories, Abigail brought this representation to a national level as she tried to find love alongside the most diverse Bachelor cast in history. It’s no wonder so many fans are hoping she’ll be America’s next Bachelorette.

The Bachelor airs Mondays at 8 pm ET on ABC.

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