Friday, July 19, 2013

Is Calling a Deaf Person a Hearing Impaired Offensive?

I came across to a great conversation recently about using terms that are thought to be acceptable when it is not. It amazed me how so many hearing folks viewed using this term, hearing impaired, to describe a Deaf person, to be acceptable. However, I did not blame them. Hearing people did not know it was an offensive term. They sincerely thought that since it was a politically correct term then it was acceptable to call a Deaf person hearing impaired. 

Well, folks, let me tell you. 

Calling a Deaf person hearing impaired is offensive. It is a slur. It is as bad as calling a black person a nigger. 

Huh? Why? Doctors, audiologists, and those in professional fields do use the term hearing impaired to describe a Deaf/HOH person. You even see that term showing up in the closed captioning at the end of the film, and even on some DVDs menu list for subtitles feature. You may have met some folks, with a hearing loss, referring themselves as hearing impaired. It confuses you to learn that hearing impaired is considered a slur in the Deaf world. 

The medical field uses the term, hearing impaired, very loosely. It is a generalization to slump all degrees of hearing loss into one large group. A hearing loss is a hearing loss to the professionals in the medical field. They do not view a hearing loss as a cultural thing. They view it as a condition to be examined, to be fixed, and to be cured. Unfortunately, this translates into an attitude that something is wrong with a Deaf/HOH person. 

Since the medical field uses hearing impairment as a generalization, the society unknowingly adopts the term without really understanding the implication that lies within the term, and applies to the everyday living situations. It should not have happened this way....but it did. That was why you saw the term, hearing impaired, to describe a Deaf or a HOH person. Sometimes, it showed up in the endorsement for captioning at the end of the film or on the DVD subtitle menu. 

Then there are some people, with hearing loss, that does call themselves hearing impaired. They are often people, who became Deaf or obtain hearing loss at later time in their lives. They are the elderly, adults, or even older teenagers. Sometimes, you'll meet some Deaf people that calls themselves hearing impaired. They come from backgrounds that does not promote confidence with their hearing loss, and does not view Deafness as cultural. They don't see anything wrong with using the term, hearing impaired, to reference to themselves. While it is not their fault, and certainly their choice to want label themselves this way; it does also promote the society to continue to use the term to apply to those who DOES not want to label themselves as hearing impaired. Many hearing people use hearing impaired because they have not met or does not know any Deaf person, who happens to be culturally Deaf. 

More often than not, I am the only Deaf person that many of my hearing friends know. I am pretty sure that many hearing folks do not know anybody who is culturally Deaf, and they are more likely to know someone with a hearing loss. Hence, they use the term, hearing impaired, unknowingly. 

When someone comes up to me, and says, oh you're hearing impaired? I internally cringe, and withhold a loud sigh. I try not to lash out or be rude because I know the person is, 95% of the time,  making a honest mistake without any intention to be a jerk. I correct the person by explaining it is better to say DEAF or Hard of Hearing or simply just ask first! 

Hearing Impaired is a vile term because it indicates that we have a problem. The thing is, us Deaf and HOH people don't view our hearing loss as a problem. We never have. We are proud. We are happy. We are content with the fact that we do not hear. It may seem strange to a hearing person. After all, who doesn't want to hear? There are barriers in a life of a Deaf/HOH person. Why be proud of that? By focusing on that, the hearing person is missing out on the bigger picture. 

Sure, we do wonder what it is like to hear or for some of us, to be able to hear or have a normal hearing again. Yes, we are sick of barriers, and obstacles in our lives. But, our hearing loss is a blessing. We have a rich, beautiful, and dynamic culture. We have our language. We have our arts, music, and theater. We have our norms. We have our rules. We have our set of culture obligations that we appreciate, and love. 

There is nothing better than meeting someone that says, hey, you're Deaf? Me too! The connection we have among our people is beautiful, and amazing. I get emails all of the time from other Deaf and HOH folks or even interpreters, or CODA/SODA, and so many more telling me that they appreciate this connection that Deaf world have. 

Yes, we feel that we do not have a problem. 

And using the term, Hearing Impaired, says that we do. 


  1. Very interesting and good to know. Thank you for writing this.

    But what about for people who had the ability to hear and lost it? Are they wrong to not find it a blessing if they miss their ability to hear? I appreciate Deaf Culture and find it fascinating, but as a musician if I were to lose my hearing I would certainly think of it as an impairment. I would find other ways to use what I know and still find joy in life, but I would also know just how much I was missing, from crickets chirps in summer to the sound of my children singing. I don't think people are wrong to call a loss what it is to them, especially if in their case it's something they would fix if they could.

  2. That is NOT the equivalent to someone calling a person of color a nigger. That is really offensive as well. The word nigger was used to consider black people, as less than a human being. The weight is not equal whatsoever. It's more like calling a person who speaks spanish, Mexican, when they are actually Puerto Rican.

    1. Thank you. Just stopped reading and taking this person seriously at that point.