Reading this Letter to the Editor in regard to this story triggered my thinking about the terms related to deafness. But first, a comment on the story. While the letter writer is right that the statement could’ve been easily omitted, Dave Crosby was being honest about his feelings about his own deafness. It would be unbearable for him to become deaf. I try to show that there are all kinds of deafness and how we feel about it.
The debate on which terms to use: deaf, hearing loss, and so on, has been around as long as deafness. Political correctness aside (these terms should all be fine anyway), each one conveys different connotations. The one that may not be politically correct is “hearing impaired” because some see “impaired” as implying a disability. When I say “hearing impaired,” it’s out of laziness because “hard of hearing” takes more effort to say. Same amount of syllables, but still I find it easier to say “hearing impaired.”
When I leave a message for someone providing the option of emailing me or calling me through the relay service. I briefly explain why I use the relay service. A person who has never received a call through the relay service might be confused to get a message, “Call me at this number. Be aware this is a relay service.”
So I say, “I’m hearing impaired, so when I make phone calls — it’s through a relay service. Some people find it cool and some find it tedious. Here are a few ways we can touch base: phone with relay service, email, and instant messenger.”
Notice I didn’t say, “I’m deaf” or “hard of hearing.” Medically, I’m profoundly deaf. I’ve already explained why I don’t use “hard of hearing” very often. I go back and forth between “deaf” and “hearing impaired.” I believe that subconsciously I use “hearing impaired” more often due to the connotations related to the two terms. Before I explain, know that I don’t view myself as weak, disabled, or anything of that because I was born without hearing. What I am about to say might upset a few folks, but I’m telling it like it is.
Over the years, I’ve gotten the impression that “deaf” conveys a greater disability than “hearing impaired.” There. I said it. It’s like those who wear glasses aren’t seen as disabled like those who can’t see at all. “Hearing impaired” is viewed as someone who has some hearing loss, but otherwise speaks normally and hears normally with help from a hearing aid. Wrong, I know.
As I leave messages for someone to contact me, I find I use “hearing impaired” because I don’t want to start our conversation with prejudice (audism) or they don’t call me back because they figure I’m not worth their time.
More on audism from About.com and an earlier Bionic Ear posting with comments on the topic.