Deaf and Hard of Hearing and… Hearing Impaired? Oh my!

September 20, 2020

What do all the labels for Deafness mean and which one is “correct?”

One of the first things we learn after we’re diagnosed is the label we will now call ourselves. For some, the label is influenced by family or friends and for others, it comes straight from the doctor who’s diagnosed us. And that, at its core, is how we end up with different labels. But which one is correct?

Once you enter the Deaf community, you quickly learn how controversial your label can be. “Hearing Impaired” is one of them. When diagnosed by a doctor some were told they are “Hearing Impaired” and so they continued to use that label. However, many in the community think this is wrong and will strongly voice their distaste for the word, but is it wrong?

Technically it isn’t. “Hearing Impaired” is a medical term used by many doctors to this day. It’s used interchangeably with “Deaf” and “Hard of Hearing” by many, and usually, a doctor will choose the label according to the level of hearing loss you are diagnosed with or which term they prefer. It can be as simple as that! 

However, it has an entirely different meaning to the members of the Deaf community – the people who are living with these labels. It’s seen as an insult or offensive to the greater community and highlights all the things one “can’t do.” Many will strongly encourage people to stop using the term “Hearing Impaired” as they believe it to be politically incorrect. 

Many believe this term refers to those whos hearing is declining due to old age or damage. But if we’re going to get technical, ALL terms and labels are used for the same disability: hearing loss, regardless of how you have the hearing loss or the level of loss.

So then which labels should we be using?

Well, that’s something no one can tell you. All of these labels are identifiers, and they can be just as personal as a gender identity label. The label someone uses tells you how they see their disability and how they like to be seen by others. A doctor may label you, but YOU are in control of how you label yourself.

It’s similar to “deaf” and “Deaf.” The difference between the lower and uppercase D means entirely different things to the person who uses it. Someone who identifies as “deaf” doesn’t have any association with the Deaf community and has no desire too. They simply use their label as a medical term. Whereas someone who identifies as “Deaf” is deeply associated with the Deaf community, and sees themselves as culturally Deaf. Both are personal, both are correct, and that’s okay! 

Disabilities are deeply personal, and the label someone identifies themselves with should be just as personal. If the term “Hearing Impaired” doesn’t sit well with you, that’s perfectly valid. As with someone who DOES use it, that’s valid too. If you identify as “Deaf” or “Hard of Hearing” that’s up to you, you should feel free to label yourself according to what feels right for YOU and your disability. It’s also okay to change your mind as you grow into your disability too. 

We should let our children, friends, and fellow Deaf community members identify themselves and accept them rather than correcting them. We are all different, and we should be celebrating that! 

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