“Being deaf doesn’t mean that I’m stupid or that I’m slow. Being deaf means, I can’t hear. I thought, you’d know. Being deaf doesn’t mean I ignore you when I don’t turn around. Being deaf means, I can’t hear you, for I’m deaf profound. Being deaf doesn’t mean, I can’t achieve things that hearing people can do with ease. Being deaf deals with the stigma it brings. My ears don’t work well, but I’ve got no disease.”
Anabel is a 15-year-old girl who loves to be alone. She literally dislikes talking to anyone except her closest friend Marylyn. She loves to smile a lot and solve very difficult questions. She always gets carried away in the class but is one of the most intelligent students. Whenever a teacher asks questions in class, she is one of those who would get the answers first, and teachers love that about her; nevertheless, she hardly gets the kind of attention she really desires.
Her daily activities are within a circle, that she hardly finds herself outside that circle. Hostel, class, chapel, dinning and supermarket are the places she goes to. Her classmates hardly notice her presence in the class, and even the teachers. Neither do her roommates care about her existence. She is just living in a world where she goes unnoticed each day. She tries not to show her pains, but she hurts deeply.
As time goes on, most of her classmates and teachers realize that she couldn’t hear well without the help of a hearing aid. Some call her names like disabled, deaf girl, hearing-impaired, dumb etc.
“Anabel please move your head away from there, I can’t see what the teacher is writing,” someone would say.
“She can’t hear you. Move closer to her and speak into her ears or hit her she’ll hear. She’s deaf,” another would say in whispers. While some would shout it out loud without a care.
There are times she’d go to the hostel to cry or even in the class, silently, hiding her tears.
Anabel finds a friend in Vera, who is always there for her. But it is not enough, because her classmates wouldn’t stop hurling insults at her.
Vera is different. She’s very fun to be with, talkative and very playful.
She decides to befriend Anabel and get close to her. They get talking and she gets to know about Anabel’s pains and how she feels whenever she is called all sorts of names. Asides that, she also gets to know that Anabel is affectionate, jovial and fun-loving. She is an extremely intelligent and hardworking student as well.
The deaf and hard of hearing community is diverse. There are variations to how a person becomes deaf or hard of hearing, level of hearing, age of onset, educational background, communication methods, and cultural identity. How these people label or see themselves is personal and may be a reflection of their identification with the deaf and hard of hearing community, the degree to which they can hear, or the relative age of onset.
For example, some people identify themselves as “late-deafened,” indicating that they became deaf later in life. Other people identify themselves as “deaf-blind,” which usually indicates that they are deaf or hard of hearing and have some degree of vision loss. Some people believe that the term “people with hearing loss” is inclusive and efficient. However, some people who were born deaf or hard of hearing do not think of themselves as having lost their hearing. Over the years, the most commonly accepted terms have come to be deaf, Deaf, and hard of hearing.
Deaf and deaf
According to Carol Padden and Tom Humphries, in Deaf in America: Voices from a Culture (1988), “We use the lowercase ‘deaf’ when referring to the audiological condition of not hearing, and the uppercase ‘Deaf’ when referring to a group of deaf people who share a language – American Sign Language (ASL) – and a culture. The members of this group have inherited their sign language, use it as a primary means of communication among themselves, and hold a set of beliefs about themselves and their connection to the larger society. We distinguish them from, for example, those who find themselves losing their hearing because of illness, trauma or age; although these people share the condition of not hearing, they do not have access to the knowledge, beliefs, and practices that make up the culture of Deaf people.”
Hard of Hearing
Hard-of-hearing can denote a person with a mild-to-moderate hearing loss. Or it can denote a deaf person who doesn’t have/want any cultural affiliation with the Deaf community. Or both.
What is wrong with the use of these terms: “deaf-mute,” “deaf and dumb,” or “hearing-impaired?”
Deaf and hard of hearing people have the right to choose what they wish to be called, either as a group or on an individual basis. Overwhelmingly, deaf and hard of hearing people prefer to be called “deaf” or “hard of hearing.” Nearly all organizations of the deaf use the term deaf and hard of hearing.
Yet there are many people who persist in using terms other than deaf and hard of hearing. The alternative terms are often seen in print, heard on radio and television, and picked up in casual conversations all over.
The three most-used alternative terms are;
- Deaf and Dumb: The term is offensive to deaf and hard of hearing people for several
- Deaf and hard of hearing people are by no means “silent” at all. They use sign language, lip-reading, vocalizations, and so on to communicate. Communication is not reserved for hearing people alone and using one’s voice is not the only way to communicate.
- “Dumb” also has a second meaning: Deaf and hard of hearing people have encountered plenty of people who subscribe to the philosophy that if you cannot use your voice well, you don’t have much else “upstairs,” and have nothing going for you. Obviously, this is incorrect, ill-informed, and false.
Deaf and hard of hearing people have repeatedly proven that they have much to contribute to the society at large.
- Deaf-Mute: This label is technically inaccurate, since deaf and hard of hearing people generally have functioning vocal cords. The challenge lies with the fact that, to successfully modulate your voice, you generally need to be able to hear your own voice. Again, because deaf and hard of hearing people use various methods of communication other than their voices or in addition to using their voices, does not mean they are truly mute. True communication occurs when one’s message is understood by others, and they can respond in kind.
- Hearing-impaired: This term is no longer accepted by most in the community but was at one time preferred, largely because it was viewed as politically correct. To declare oneself or another person as deaf or blind, for example, was considered somewhat bold, rude, or impolite. At that time, it was thought better to use the word “impaired” along with “visually,” “hearing,” “mobility,” and so on. Hearing-impaired was a well-meaning term that is not accepted or used by many deaf and hard of hearing people.
For many people, the words “deaf” and “hard of hearing” are not negative. Instead, the term “hearing-impaired” is viewed as negative. The term focuses on what people can’t do. It establishes the standard as hearing and anything different as impaired or substandard, hindered, or damaged. It implies that something is not as it should be and ought to be fixed if possible. To be fair, this is probably not what people intended to convey by the term “hearing impaired.”
Every individual is unique, but there is one thing we all have in common; we all want to be treated with respect. To the best of their own unique abilities, they have families, friends, communities, and lives that are just as fulfilling as anyone else. They may be different, but we are not less.
What’s in a name? Plenty! Words and labels can have a profound effect on people. Show your respect for people by refusing to use outdated or offensive terms. When in doubt, ask the individual how they identify themselves.
“The handicap of deafness is not in the ear; it is in the mind.”
“Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” Mark Twain
Written by Bellz Oyindamola
National Association of the Deaf (2020). Community and Culture – Frequently Asked Questions. Retrieved from; https://www.nad.org/resources/american-sign-language/community-and-culture-frequently-asked-questions/