People often believe that saying “Deaf” is an offensive term. But let me tell you, it’s not. Saying “hearing impaired” is.
While I was traveling, I wasn’t only learning about other people’s culture and their perspectives about life. I was bringing along my own too. You see, we often talked about what we’ll learn more about ourselves as we travel and what we learned from others.
But what about that you are teaching others as you travel? That you are sharing your perspectives that may inspire or change others? Or even increase awareness?
As a Deaf traveler, my goal (and Lilo’s) to also spread awareness about our Deaf culture as we travel. We wanted to show everyone, from all walks of life, that we can travel despite being Deaf. Ah, and yes, and that
we exist, and we are just fine.
Why did I just say that? It is because what considers “normal” is when a person can hear. It is believed that what it takes to survive in this audio centric world. Therefore, the society sees it as troubling and concerning. The societal (especially medical) perspective often views it as an impairment (as a disability, handicap or even “mentally retarded”) and needed to be treated immediately.
When Lilo and I traveled in Asia and Central America, we’ve experienced different responses: their looks. Their expressions. Their attitudes.Their avoidance. Their engagement. Their kindness. Their respectfulness. Their ignorance. Their embarrassment. Their curiosity. Their shamefulness. And last but not least, their sympathy.
From all over the world, we, Deaf people, are often seen as “Deaf and mute,” “Hearing Impaired,” “Deaf and dumb.”
Okay, guys, I’m quite sure (or hope) you’re aware that saying “Deaf and dumb” is such an ignorant thing to say. So is “Deaf and mute.”
People, please, don’t.
Although it was the society that taught people around the world, it’s quite ignorant to add “dumb” and “mute.” We, Deaf people, never even created that term for ourselves, it was the society.
So, what about “hearing impaired”? That’s quite a ubiquitous term that people often use nowadays.
“Are you Hearing Impaired?”
“Taipei school for the Hearing Impaired”
“She’s hearing impaired.”
People learned that saying hearing impaired is an appropriate term to describe us (especially in the medical field). It is used almost anywhere, from applications to schools. “Deaf and mute” is even still perpetuated to this day (really?).
Even though, many also already learned the term “Deaf” and “Hard of Hearing!” Funny, isn’t it?
As I traveled around the world and met different Hearing* people, they often pointed to their ear, shake their head with a questionable face. Stuttering as they tried to say are you hearing impaired? Instead of saying “Deaf” (or “hard of hearing”). Why? Because they often believe that saying “Deaf” is an offensive term, or shameful.
“Oh, are you Hearing Impaired?”
“No, I’m Deaf.”
People often hesitate to say “Deaf” or avoid using that term because ultimately, it’s uncomfortable. But let me tell you,
Saying “hearing impaired” is actually very offensive.
We are aware that this may spark a controversy; however, from a Deaf cultural perspective, please hear us out with an open mind.
In the nutshell: Why “Hearing Impaired”
and “deaf and mute” are offensive?
Because it is widely used, many people adopted the term and believed that it is more appropriate compared to saying “Deaf.” The term “Deaf” (or “hard of hearing”) is quite appropriate and very acceptable, especially culturally appropriate.
But you do have an impairment?
Many don’t really think about what “hearing impaired” actually means. Although we do not hear or have some ability to hear, the term “impaired” implies that
there is something wrong with us.
We’re broken. We can’t function in the society. We can’t communicate. We are “abnormal.” It’s impossible. It’s unfortunate. It’s horrendous. It’s shameful. We need to be “fixed.”
This term segregates and excludes us from the “normal” society. It emphasizes that Hearings* are “normal” and
We are the “other.”
But if you really look past our inability to hear, you’ll see us as human beings. We can drive. We can have a family. We can travel. We can graduate. There are Deaf/Hard-of-Hearing doctors, lawyers, filmmakers, chefs, inventors, models, singers, teachers, CEOs, race car drivers, football players, actors, artists and more. We can do anything! We can function!
It’s the society that took most of our opportunities away.
But you are mute, so?
When you add “mute,” it implies we can’t talk. We can’t vocalize.
Just because languages are known to be vocalized (spoken languages), it doesn’t mean a language cannot be in another form.
For many Deaf and Hard of Hearing, sign language is their voice. Their hands are their voice. Sign Language is a visual language.
For some Deaf and Hard of Hearings, some of them do use their voice, some don’t.
We are humans beings, who also happen to have vocal chords.
The term, “mute” segregate us from the “normal” society. It makes us feel like we are not viewed as humans.
By the way, what about nonverbal cues or body language? Does it need to be voiced to communicate? What about gestures that you use when you go scuba diving? Is it vocalised? No. And here is what is ironic: teaching baby sign language is highly praised to communicate with Hearing infants and toddlers but not with Deaf/Hard of Hearings? Do you see where I’m going with this here?
Isn’t saying “Deaf” worse?
Many Deaf people see it as a vital aspect of their identity. A cultural term that reflects our identity. We have our own culture, language, custom, history, and experience.
In contrast to societal perspective, many Deaf embraces who they are and embraces their Deaf culture. Several Deaf people, I’ve met around the world, I’ve rarely ever see them referring themselves as “Hearing Impaired.” They often say “Deaf” or “Hard of Hearing.”
Some are still exploring their Deaf identity, learning to accept and embrace who they are. Some people, however, don’t. They don’t see it as an identity but rather something that it is a loss, and this is most common with late-Deafened* and those who have experienced Audism within their own family and community.
What if they prefer to refer themselves as “Hearing impaired”?
This is why I say “some” or “many” instead of saying “all Deaf/Hard of Hearings.” Not everyone agrees that “hearing impaired” is offensive.
Some are flexible about it (saying “it’s their choice” or “it’s just a word”) and some believe that it makes sense, or feel uncomfortable to say “Deaf” or “hard of hearing.”
When a Deaf or Hard of Hearing person uses this term, it is most commonly used among those who are not culturally Deaf* and late-Deafened. Other includes who claim that they are only slightly impaired, oppressed by others (Audism*) or even suffering from internalized oppression.
These are the reasons why many Deaf and Hard of Hearings find
“hearing impaired” and “mute” offensive.
When Hearings insisted that there is nothing wrong with the term “hearing impaired” or “deaf and mute,” then they are not respecting them. Actually, they are marginalizing them. They are dismissing their identity, experiences, feelings and their culture.
Although it baffles many people, some of us don’t even want to become Hearing if there is ever a cure (cochlear implant is not a cure nor even taking speech therapy). Many of us have pride (aka Deaf pride) and are happy with who we are despite some difficulties in our lives.
We are exactly like every other human being but just have some or no ability to hear. We absolutely have the ability to function. The major issue is the lack of accessibility and lack of education and awareness to the society around the world.
Since there are some who don’t share same beliefs like Lilo and me, it is always best to ask them, because it can make them feel respected and viewed as a human being.