It happened again today. A University from somewhere in Australia contacted me to ask me whether they should use the term hard of hearing or hearing impaired. I get asked this question six or seven times a year. I always bang my head in frustration. It reminds me of the Monty Python Dead Parrot Sketch. In this sketch John Cleese uses a myriad of terms to describe a dead parrot. The shop keeper, played by Michael Palin, tries to dispute this and comes up with several words and phrases to argue that the parrot is resting. Watch it with subtitles below.
Now the point I am trying to make with this video is that no matter what term you use, dead is dead. Now a person with a hearing loss has, well, a hearing loss. Of course we have variations. We have Deaf — Deaf community members that the capital D clearly distinguishes. Then you have the rest – they are deaf, hearing impaired, hard of hearing, people with a hearing loss, people with a hearing challenge, the volume challenged, people who are sound deficit, people who are lacking in hearing .. whatever. You can try forever. There is no gentle way of putting it.
And thus this was the bases of my reply to the academic. We have more pressing challenges people. Moving right along now.
Oh you poor thing … you’ve been bitten by the terminology police 😀
In all seriousness you are not going to please everyone, whatever terminology you use.
But anyway this is the issue:
World Federation of the Deaf got together in partnership with the International Federation of the Hard of Hearing – these two groups in, their respective wisdom, decided that the official terminology should be Deaf and hard of hearing. They basically agreed that three terms were acceptable – Deaf for the Deaf community, hard of hearing for people with a hearing loss of any kind and deaf as a medical definition to describe all with a hearing loss. They, as you know, reject the term hearing impairment because it has a deficit focus.
Now it gets complicated because in Australia we have traditionally had two advocacy groups – Deaf Australia and Deafness Forum – Deaf Australia will insist, rather militantly, that it’s Deaf and hard of hearing or the highway. Deafness Forum are more gentle and tend to follow a path that it’s up to the individual to choose the terminology that they want and if that is hearing impaired, then that’s fine. Deafness Forum will use hearing impairment rather than hard of hearing. So we have a stand-off of sorts.
I have often spoken with older people with an acquired hearing loss and asked their preference. This is purely anecdotal, but the majority prefer hearing impaired. The younger group of people with an acquired hearing loss will vary in their preference as some of these find the Deaf community and Auslan quite late in life and some do not.
It is a moot point really that both hard of hearing and hearing impaired are both deficit terms. “hard of” simply means lacking in so … The two groups are really agreeing on the same thing but one term is apparently more deficit than the other. You will never win this argument.
Of course our Government and educators tend to use hearing impaired and don’t really care what Deaf Australia and WFD think because to them it sounds more official 😀
As for myself I tend to say Deaf or hard of hearing rather than Deaf and hard of hearing. It is purely semantics because Deaf or hard of hearing assumes a person is one or the other. Deaf and hard of hearing can be interpreted as meaning that a person is both … I tend to steer clear of both hard of hearing and hearing impaired and say .. Deaf people or other groups with a hearing loss. But, of course, the word “loss” upsets some too … As I said you are not going to win.
I would suggest that professionals and others just ask the terminology that a person prefers and take it from there. It really is political correctness gone mad.