Am I deaf or what?

I was thinking over the weekend about an issue which I sometimes find myself debating with colleagues from time to time: does the term “deaf” put off deaf children?

When I was young, I hated the term “deaf” and generally referred to myself as “hearing impaired”. I always thought that “deaf” gave the impression I couldn’t hear anything at all when, in fact, I spent many nights bopping to Kylie after school. But as I got older, I reclaimed the term “deaf” and became more comfortable with using it. I began to see it as a positive aspect of my self identity.

But what about deaf children today? Are they like me when I was young? I come across a lot of deaf children who don’t regard themselves as “deaf”. Like me, they might grow out of it or they might not – it will be their choice. But, in the meantime, they might be closed off from even looking at services offered to “deaf” children / adults because they don’t see it as relevant. Are they missing out on the support they might need because of definitions that don’t work for everyone?

Complicating matters is that I don’t personally like some of the alternatives. Hard of hearing; it makes me sounds like an old fogey walking around with an ear trumpet. Hearing loss is just inaccurate; many deaf people never had any hearing to lose. It also creates an image in my head of someone saying “darling, where did I leave my hearing? I had it a moment ago..” so that probably won’t work either. And hearing impaired implies a malfunction which, despite me using it as a child, leaves me feeling cold as a deaf adult.

Is there any way of coming up with an acceptable term to all? What do other people think?

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25 thoughts on “Am I deaf or what?

  1. I am currently having problems with this at the moment. My seven year old is quite happy to refer to himself as ‘deaf’ but is constantly met with people telling him he is not (including his dad) as he can hear with hearing aids.

  2. I hate it when people call me hearing impaired or hard of hearing – and this is from people who know me well. I am fine with being called deaf, because after all, that’s what I am.

    I think the idea of a new and *positive* term needs to be bandied about, possibly something like ‘hearing challenged’ or ‘differently hearing’ or ‘differently abled’ or ‘people with differing abilities’ or even …… ‘severely euphemized’.

  3. People just call me MM it cuts through all the confusions…. 🙂 Better a personality, ANY Personality than an image of something that has stopped working. deaf, Deaf. HI, just titles because people love titles…. no wonder the mainstream NEVER looks at you as a person but as a stereotype with a label on. The only ID you need is your name. deaf hearing ? so what ?

  4. Well to be honest I’m not bothered now I’m an adult, I think children should be able to express their own status in life when it comes to classification…just as long as silly society doesn’t assume to label.
    I used to hate people saying I was deaf when I was a child, because it made me feel somehow inadequate to others, I’d like a positive term applied too..but what…Hmmm?

  5. I feel conditioning have a lot to answer for. When you’re a deaf child, you meet more professionals (medical, welfare and educational) as a glut of resources are thrown at you – in which case, it completely shrivels up as you enter adulthood. By meeting these pros, they will label you anything but deaf – perhaps it will be like admitting defeat for them? Who is going to argue with them, especially when you are a young person.

  6. I’m at the point where I couldn’t care less about political-correctness. I also used to freak out when people called me deaf, and preferred the term hearing-impaired, which supposedly offends some. I mean, for heavens sake, they all mean the same thing! Hard-of-hearing is fine too, but it’s kind of a mouthful to say. I once had someone call me hearing-disabled. Hey, whatever floats their boat!

  7. You did not say if you grew up in Deaf school or not, which I doubt you were. That’s makes all the world of a difference.

  8. Really good article. I think the key problem is the general (public/social) misconception of what “deaf” actually means – for many they think that if you are deaf, then you can’t hear anything and need to sign(!).

    I’ve heard a lot of feedback that many parents don’t see their child as deaf for this very reason. My view is that this misconception of deafness needs to be challenged to show that it covers a wide spectrum of hearing loss. This would then help change society’s attitude to the issues that arise (social exclusion, educational services etc.). The phrase “deaf awareness” is a problem. Many are aware of deafness, but have a wrong view of what it means.

  9. Because my granddaughter is bilaterally implanted but has one deaf parent and one hearing, I tell her she can say either. I tell her she is a bionic child who is lucky she can be in both worlds. Well, she could be if her hearing mom would allow it. She is forcing the deaf father to keep the implants on all the time. She has charged him with contempt for supposedly not keeping them on. This 8 year old child is so messed up as she hates wearing them around her deaf father. She tells him all the time that he is lucky he can be deaf. But she is happy to wear them around hearing people. Why can’t she just choose? So how many out there believe she will be irrevocably harmed if she doesn’t keep them on ALL the time?

    • @Judy : A cochlear implant should be worn all the time to get the most benefit out of it. The more the user wears the implant, the more she learns to hear over time and the better she will hear. This learning process goes on for years after implantation. A lot of deaf people don’t like cochlear implants, but that is a whole other issue to do with deaf identity and culture. I agree with you, your granddaughter is lucky she can have a foot in both worlds, hearing and deaf, sound and silence when she wants it. Just needs to balance the nice silence against the benefits of the CI 🙂

      • No one can be sure that the child will benefit from wearing the implant every hour versus wearing it sometimes, and it’s not possible to predict as it vary from child to child. Based on this, you want to force this child to wear CI all the time. That’s a very extreme suggestion.

      • I know that you believe that, but let me just say, what is more important, that a deaf child can identify with both parents or just one? I think it is wrong to make her feel guilty about being hearing by anyone in deaf culture, but I conversely think it is wrong to make her feel guilty about being DEAF! I know other parents who are hearing that don’t force their bilaterally implanted children to wear them ALL the time. They let them have quiet times in their rooms. So why can’t this child do that with her dad? She is VERY articulate with her speech. This ruling sets a precedence that just is NOT good. She should be able to go half the day deaf with her deaf parent. She is rebelling over it and will turn against hearing society like too many kids have when they become teens or older who have been implanted. Why not compromise here?

  10. Hmm as a child I too did not like the phrase deaf. But this is perhaps because the only time I would hear the phrase would be in a negative way “Oh it must be awful to be deaf.” It was meant as sympathy but as a child it felt like pity. I would always tell my hearing friends in the playground if they asked – I wasn’t deaf I was hard of hearing. I was taught to refer to myself this way as this was the correct term for the hearing loss I have.

    Today with work colleagues or friends it totally depends on the situation as to which phrase I will use. I hate to say but in a job interview I would refer to myself as hard of hearing because I would fear that deaf would have too negative associations about my potential ability. That’s terrible isn’t it? I certainly don’t have a problem with being referred to as deaf by others now- sometimes I can’t bothered to say the long worded hard of hearing and I find it can make people laugh to use the word deaf – I hope I am not trivialising here. For example me saying ‘I’m sorry can you repeat that please – I am deaf you know” allows my hearing friends to understand I am comfortable with my disability and consequently they are too. In the same situation had I said “I’m sorry can you repeat that I am hard of hearing” might be followed by “Oh, sorry…” and an awkward moment by them.

    • Exactly. The hearing world made you feel “bad” about being what you were. How sad! If they had not shown pity, but praised you for your accomplishments in spite of the deafness, you would have felt proud of yourself. That is what I want for my granddaughter, to be accepting of herself no matter. What happens if you are somewhere where you can’t charge the implant batteries? She would be deaf and need sign language! The school can’t see this and doesn’t want to put out for an interpreter. It is so sad. The teacher says that when my son and I come to visit it distracts that other students. Can you believe that? How closed minded is this person? Children may be distracted for a short while, but they are very adaptive and soon get over staring.

  11. @Free : ‘No one can be sure’?? I am posting facts, not opinions, about cochlear implants. You need to understand that a CI is not the same as a hearing aid. Success with a CI requires daily rehabilitation. The more you use a CI, the better you will adapt to it. A child, in particular, should wear their CI during all waking hours, especially in their formative years. This is recommended by all CI centres. Or perhaps you can dispute this with hard evidence rather than opinion? CI centres carry out testing on sentence comprehension and those who do more rehabilitation work are the ones who perform better. A child is unable to take responsibility for improving their hearing with a CI so it’s really up to the parents to ensure they wear it and practice listening with it. Any normal parent would want the best for their child and the best hearing for their child, and work towards that goal. My ‘extreme suggestion’, as you put it, was not an opinion but fact – it’s common sense, if you know anything about CIs.

    @Judy : As for spending time being deaf – well, a person is STILL deaf with a CI. I don’t need to take off my hearing aid or CI to identify with a signer and spend time being deaf. I just sign back. I’m still deaf with a CI. It’s just a label. I wouldn’t allow society’s definition of me to define my level of hearing and communication competence.

    • I understand what you are saying. Any hearing child of a deaf parent that AROUND that parent can still hear and sign. BUT when a deaf child is kept from their deaf parent so they are not getting that language and they struggle with it because the noise from hearing with CIs is distracting them, then they are being kept from the OTHER parent or deaf parent’s language!!! I don’t see her being harmed by flipping the coils off while she is signing with her deaf father!!! After all, she can’t wear them swimming or with a helmet so should she NEVER do those activities! OF course not! PLEASE. This hearing mom is just keeping the child away from her deaf dad using this!

      • Noise does not distract or keep a person from using sign language. I know this as I sign myself. I have lots of deaf friends who sign. We all keep our hearing aids or CIs in and just carry on signing. I am proud to be able to use both signing and speech at the same time and be bilingual. It is possible to wear a helmet with CI (I can send you sources if interested) and it’s fine to take it off for short periods of activitie such as swimming where of course she can’t wear CI – from posts above, it sounds like you are arguining for her not to wear the CI for half a day or more which is detrimental to her hearing development, and at the crucial time of childhood. Once her language and sound capabilities are well developed (usually at teenage stage), then it is ok to have some quiet time without affecting hearing development. Are you in contact with other parents of CI children and seeing how they manage the rehabilitation process? There are mentors who you can talk to, some of whom have children with CIs http://www.advancedbionics.com/apps/CTM/

  12. Noise may not prevent YOU from signing. Actually, it not when she or I are signing, it is when we are trying to READ someone sign to US. GET IT? You cannot make it so black and white. You are not me and I am not you! And FYI I have gotten in contact with other parents of CI children. And they do allow their children times of quiet and to go without them on! I also have another couple of friends that wear CIs and they enjoy going without them too! I don’t know where you get your information, but you sound like a CI Nazi! This is a cultural issue too. The truth is, when you can keep a child from a parent over this issue, it is WRONG! Sorry. That is my opinion!

  13. You just THINK you know better. Let me ask you: Can you talk and sign true ASL at the same time. I don’t know anyone that can. You may be signing ASL in English order or doing SEE sign but true ASL is a picture language and it pretty hard to speak two different languages at the same time. Do you speak French and Spanish at the same time? You get what I mean? I am glad that you do sign. I have heard that many CI proponents discourage parents from signing with their children believing that signing will keep them from acquiring good speech. I can tell you from my own experience that is not true. Both my hearing children signed for a couple years before talking and when they did start talking, they were extremely articulate.

  14. ever since i was it kid it generally differed like hard of hearing, hearing impaired, etc but never deafness. I hated being deaf let alone being referred to as hard of hearing or whatever. I was brought up in mainstream education, and while i enjoyed the cirriculum, i hated the fact i was basically the only deaf kid so i hated that i was deaf. I refused to wear my hearing aids as a result of not wanting to be the odd one out. From what my mother tells me, i hated p1 cause i couldnt hear everything (though my teacher was my fave). Mind before i entered primary school, the teachers apparently had to go on a training course cause of me (i was to be the most severely deaf kid in school). i am still reluctant to take up the term deaf, but i am much more accepting of it now that i have been cause i joined NDCS only a few years ago which gave me the confidence to wear my hearing aids in public (though im starting to fall out of the habit again) and to refer my self as deaf. I too am a child that straddles two worlds, the hearing and deaf, cause i technically am both (cant hear in my left ear and have partial hearing in my right and i grew up in a hearing world). The only reason i didnt join the deaf community as a kid was that i got bullied so i left after an incident where i was pushed into a pile of chairs (making me feel that i wasnt accepted in the deaf world either). although im more relaxed about my identity, i still have that self-confidence issue every single day and am reluctant to make people repeat things after a third time. i even have chats with my mum about my deafness every now and then, although the last one kinda struck a nerve as she had said that im normal but i just have a little problem. i dunno bout you guys, but to me, my deafness isnt a problem, its something thats normal to me. i find it weird that people can hear out of both ears so its just what ive grown up with. Our experiences make us who we are, and despite all ive been through, i wouldnt change anything in my past as its made me who i am today; a kind, loving, rather blunt, daughter, cousin, niece, granddaughter, friend.

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