Have you ever heard a person who is deaf or hard of hearing described as “hearing impaired”? The term “hearing impaired” might seem fairly common. Indeed, many people use the term without a second thought.
However, perhaps you should give it a second thought. The word impaired is defined as “being in an imperfect or weakened state or condition, such as diminished in function or ability.” So, are people who are deaf or hard of hearing “imperfect” or “weakened”? No! They simply have a different hearing ability.
For those who are deaf or hard of hearing, they often do not feel that they have no sense of sound. They simply have a different sense of sound, one that is more multisensory than what most people with normal hearing experience. Thus a deaf or hard-of-hearing person is not impaired; they do not have a disability. They have a different ability.
If you have been part of the hearing culture for your entire life, it might be easy to assume that someone who is born deaf or hard of hearing wishes to be “cured” and to join the Hearing community. In fact, that is far from the truth for many deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals. Rather, they are proud of their different abilities and are happy to be part of the Deaf and hard-of-hearing community.
Within the Deaf and hard-of-hearing community, “hearing impaired” is not a welcome term. It is instead a label affixed on deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals by the Hearing community. The term “hearing impaired” can imply that a hard-of-hearing person is somehow damaged, inferior, or weakened. The Deaf and hard-of-hearing community have been working for years to discourage the use of this term.
In fact, in 2017, Utah became the first state to change all “hearing impaired” references in their state laws. New Hampshire, New York, and Virginia soon followed Utah. Those in the Deaf and hard-of-hearing community now work to achieve the same level of change in other states throughout the United States.
It is important that the term “hearing impaired” is retired not only on the legal level but on a personal one as well. Be mindful in your speech and writing to avoid the use of the term, and don’t be afraid to explain the stigma associated with the term when you hear others use it. When more people in the Hearing community understand the meaning and connotations of the term, they will be able to choose better terminology to describe their friends in the Deaf and hard-of-hearing community.
It isn’t difficult to simply describe a person as they are: deaf or hard of hearing. As we noted, many deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals are proud of their abilities. It’s time to stop implying a disability that simply doesn’t exist, and the solution is simple. Reconsider the term “hearing impaired” and discontinue its use. Understand the differing abilities between the Hearing community and the Deaf and hard-of-hearing community. Don’t assume a hard-of-hearing person wishes to have “normal” hearing. With this understanding, we can offer mutual respect to all people, whether they are hearing, deaf, or hard of hearing.
If you would like more information about the Deaf and hard-of-hearing community, or if you would like to discuss what “hearing impaired” means, please feel free to contact our audiologist office. We are happy to help in any way we can!