Hi, I’m H.I.XXX Deaf.

This article appeared at i711.com.                                                                                                                

I think it’s a never-ending struggle.

I’m, of course, talking about the persistent use of “hearing impaired” and other related terms. Tom Willard, a writer who is also Deaf, published an amusing article in August 1993 about how Deaf people are portrayed in the media. He wrote that journalists have a tendency to use the same words in stories about deaf or hard of hearing people (i.e., “silent” or “through an interpreter”), and that they also tend to write as if “deafness” is something to be overcome. 12 years later, his article continues to ring true.

Someone recently sent me a real estate ad that upset some people. The ad said:
HEARING IMPAIRED? [Agent’s name deleted for privacy] now has hearing impaired agents to work with your needs.

I decided to fax this agent in case she wasn’t aware about the inappropriateness of using “hearing impaired,” and included a print out of the National Association of the Deaf’s comments on correct terminology (available at www.nad.org/site/pp.asp?c=foINKQMBF&b=103786) I appreciated her attempt at reaching out to deaf and hard of hearing people, though.

The faxed response said (all typos are hers), “Hello, Thank you for your informative fax. I hire hearing impaired agents and secretaries. They are the Ones that set up the ad for me. You might want to educate whom ever wrote you this letter. May God Bless you today!”

I replied that that this “letter” was actually an article from the NAD website, and that I was preparing to write a column about the use of ‘hearing impaired’ in general. I got a second fax, apparently from one of her agents, saying:

PLEASE MAKE SURE YOU ADD THIS TO YOUR ARTICLE AS WELL. THANK GOD FOR A COMPANY THAT HAS A TTY FOR REAL ESTATE. My name is [deleted] and I work for [name deleted]. I instructed [name deleted] to use the Words hearing impaired and tty numbers. We are most thankful to have a real estate firm that Cares about our needs. I am proud to be working for [agency] and we want our hearing impaired friends to Contact us via our tty or stop by our office any time. God Bless You All.

Hmm. This is an intriguing matter. Even with Deaf people’s complaints about the labels pasted on our foreheads by society, we’re shot in the feet (often unintentionally) by people who have hearing losses but prefer to identify themselves as “hearing impaired.” Maybe they aren’t educated on the history behind the use of ‘hearing impaired’, or maybe they choose to use those words.

I completely understand, and respect, how the majority of people with hearing losses do not identify with the Deaf community. I also have no problem with people who identify themselves as ‘hearing impaired’ – it is their choice, after all. Still, shouldn’t my identity be respected? Each time someone insists on calling me hearing impaired, it’s a slap in my face. And ironically, most of the slaps in my face come from individuals who have hearing losses themselves or from families of deaf people.

This has nothing to do with whether if they identify with the Deaf community, the hard of hearing community, the late-deafened community, the DeafBlind community or the hearing world; it’s about respect. Maybe it’s just semantics, but terminology has a huge role in how one’s self-respect is revealed. Words also reveal how far a group has come – especially a cultural minority like the Deaf community.

In school, I called myself “H.I.” simply because the teachers at where I was mainstreamed told me “deaf” wasn’t a good thing to be. I look back on those days with disbelief. How could I have allowed hearing people, who could barely sign, dictate my cultural identity? Would they have done that to a hearing kid from a different culture?

For us to be able to call ourselves Deaf without backlash is a major step forward, and enables us to reclaim our history, identity, and opportunities. How I identify myself really should be respected by everyone, deaf or hearing. Just because people don’t identify with Deaf culture doesn’t mean they can speak for us, or us for them. Why is it even an “us versus them” mentality, anyway? Shouldn’t we all mutually respect each other regardless of label and identity?

Perhaps this mutual respect is so difficult to achieve because people still do not accept the idea that there is a culture among Deaf people. Take the recent letter in the May 23 issue of People in response to a story about Marvin Miller’s plans for Laurent, S.D.:

Has activist Marvin Miller lost more than just his hearing in “Building a Town for the Deaf”? Through the miracle of the cochlear implant, my deaf child lives in the world of hearing. Deafness is not a culture but a disability. Miller gives new meaning to the expression “deaf and dumb.”_- Deborah Gideon, Pepper Pike, Ohio

Ouch.

Would this letter have been published had it contained racial or ethnic slurs? I think not. Yet the editors of People found it fit to publish, calling us “deaf and dumb.” It would have been equally hurtful had the writer said “hearing impaired” for me, because it represents so much more than just an insult for me.

So, yeah, it’s a never-ending struggle. The bottom line here is that even if people call me hearing impaired, I am Deaf.

UPDATE: The real estate agency mentioned in the above article quickly changed the wording to ‘deaf’ as soon as they learned the implications and history of using ‘hearing impaired.’ Kudos to them!

People has also sent me e-mail saying they will be printing an apology in the next issue.

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