Is “Hearing Impaired” an appropriate term?


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.” 

Dumb. 

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.

And yes, I am Deaf, and I’m still a human being.


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20 thoughts on “Is “Hearing Impaired” an appropriate term?

  • Jane M

    Thanks so much for sharing this with the world, and me! It’s so cool that you’re travelling and sharing your knowledge with the world. The more I travel and the more people I meet in the world, the more your statement “We are exactly like every other human being” rings true for all people anywhere!

    Nice work! Jane M

    P.S. I love the term “Hearings”. I’ve never seen that one before 🙂

  • Red Nomad OZ (Marion Halliday)

    It’s sometimes difficult to know what is and is not offensive because there are so many mixed messages about what language to use any why. Thank you for providing this comprehensive explanation from a deaf person’s point of view – I hope it helps us all move forward with common understanding.

  • Indrani

    Yes I agree with you.
    Words keep changing and the meanings often deviate from what it was actually supposed to mean. Thanks for explaining your view point.

  • Kayley Chislett

    Thanks for sharing your feelings and insights here. Society always seems to come up with some other wording for everything just to make it politically correct. Why can’t things just be said the way they are? Love your message you’re sending out. Travel is for everyone 🙂

  • Aleah | SolitaryWanderer

    Great post. I know saying Deaf and Mute is insensitive since you’re not mute, you can communicate. And of course Deaf and Dumb is just…dumb LOL I didn’t know though that Hearing Impaired is offensive. It’s being used in the community I work with (I used to give seminars about sexual abuse to the Deaf community). Good to know.

  • Skye Class

    What an amazing post. You certainly bring up some really important points, and how we should view those around us. My hat’s certainly off to you with your ability to travel the world the way you do. Amazing job!

  • Jenn and Ed Coleman

    My fear of the word “deaf” comes from my poor vocalization. I have a hard time saying (or hearing) the difference between “deaf” and “death”. I went through a lot of speech therapy as a kid, in part because I go ear tubes put in relatively late and in part because I grew up in Alabama.

    It always heartens me to see people embrace their identity. They can simply state it – I am deaf – and then go on. People are people. Everybody is different but in so many ways, everybody is the same.

  • Megan Jerrard

    Interesting, I had no idea that people even thought using “deaf” was inappropriate or politically incorrect – it certainly sounds better in my mind than calling someone hearing impaired – you’re right, use of the word “impaired” seems to carry the connotation that it’s not normal, or somewhat less than. Thanks for sharing with us 🙂

  • Angela @ Dang Travelers

    To be honest, I had no idea hearing impaired was offensive so thanks for sharing. The more people understand the feelings of others, the less ignorance there is in the world. Good job on spreading awareness and getting your feelings out there!

  • Paul

    I have never really thought about it like this before and it’s great to know! I think other people make up new terms thinking that things are offending people, when really it then ends up the other way around! Thanks for sharing!

  • Lara Dunning

    We most certainly live in a complex world and sometimes it’s hard to know what will offend and what will not. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences. I learn so much from reading your posts.

  • Megan

    This is a very interesting read to me, because I have always called myself “hearing-impaired.” I am not deaf. My hearing loss was discovered in my early 20s (over 20 years ago now), and I say ‘discovered’ because I was having other health issues when my hearing was tested as part of a battery of tests, and the doctor said, “Um… do you realize you have moderate hearing loss in this ear, and mild-to-moderate in this one?”

    Nope. I didn’t. I had so compensated, and just assumed people mumbled a lot and everyone heard like me. ??? I know, I was clueless. The first time I put in hearing aids though, I was stunned at what I had been missing. I continued to lose hearing for a number of years before it plateaued, and now have significant loss in both ears – but I’m not deaf. So, I call myself “hearing-impaired” because my hearing… is impaired. I never thought of it like I was broken, but my hearing definitely is. Without my aides the world largely goes away, and even with them I struggle in some common interactions.

    I’m not sure, if ‘hearing-impaired’ was removed from terminology, what I would be classified as? Hearing-challenged? *shrugs* I don’t know.

    Either way, it’s not stopping me. I travel, even solo, despite the challenge of understanding other accents. I do the daily things I need to, and just tell people I’m hearing-impaired and ask them to speak slowly and clearly (not louder!) when I’m in a difficult hearing situation. Thanks for this post. Very thought provoking for me!

  • Skye

    I never really thought about this but I totally appreciate you educating me on this I have to say. Some great insights here. I love that you have such a unique perspective on the travel experience.

  • Sia

    It is not often that you can get such an honest insight on a topic that is considered uncomfortable! Thank you for sharing not only an educational information but in a way a part of your world with us. I have never stumbled in a situations like this in English as I believe in my language there isn’t such a difference between the terms. And even though I know what hearing impaired means and I have heard and seen it , I have never thought of what it actually implies and how it could be perceived as offensive. This was indeed really eye opening and interesting to read.