Reconsidering The Term “Hearing Impaired”

The Deaf and hard of hearing community consists of a diverse group of individuals from all backgrounds. Variations exist in the way these people became deaf, level of hearing, age of onset, educational experience, communication methods, and cultural identity. How people within this community identify themselves is a personal choice and may reflect upon which group to which they most closely identify. There was a time when the term hearing impaired was the preferred term and was politically correct. Hearing impaired was the polite manner of referring to a person who could not hear.

A Changing Culture

The term hearing impaired is negatively viewed now. Several in the deaf and hard of hearing community view the term as describing what a person can’t do. It implies something is not right, and a repair is needed immediately. The phrase bothers people because:

  • The term is considered to be highly offensive, an old way to collectively label people with any hearing loss. Unfortunately, it does not account for cultural identity.
  • It is not uncommon for elderly people to refer to themselves as being hearing impaired. However, it is over-generalized by the majority of the American public.
  • Although the term hearing impaired may be considered less offensive by hearing people, those people within the deaf and hearing loss community view the term as insulting and a sign of ignorance.

Hearing impaired is outdated and is demeaning terminology. It establishes hearing as normal and anything else as impaired, damaged, or substandard. The deaf and hard of hearing community believes that the term implies one needs to be fixed to be part of society. Remember that there are many different forms of hearing loss.

An Inaccurate Term

Hearing impaired suggests that a deaf person’s lack of hearing ability is a pathological condition that needs repair. However, many deaf people do not want a fix for their inability to hear. They are proud to be deaf and live successful and productive lives. The term hearing impaired has never been an acceptable word within the deaf and hard-of-hearing community. The label is used to describe differences within the community. Changes are taking place as Utah became the first U.S. state to change all hearing impaired references in 2017 with New Hampshire and New York close behind.

What Is Correct?

Hard of hearing is acceptable, but it sounds outdated. People with hearing loss seems to be the only phrase that is accepted by everyone, although it is cumbersome. However, there is a shift away from using hearing loss altogether for more positive language. People with disabilities is preferred because it refers to people as people instead of focusing on their disability. It is essential to put people first and avoid language that defines them only by their disability. So do not call people hearing impaired no matter what type of hearing loss they have. It is okay to ask them how they wish to identify themselves. Questions are always welcome, but assumptions are not!


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