The Minefield of Hearing-Related Terminology

“Deaf,” “deaf,” “hard of hearing,” “hearing impaired”…

There are many words that describe someone with hearing loss. Some of them are used to describe how much you can hear, others elicit positive feelings, and other more negative. Other terms are viewed as politically correct, while unfortunately in some places it’s still common to use words like “deaf and dumb.”

Thankfully, we’ve come a long way from terms that belittle people with hearing loss, but there are still situations that we run into that make us think, wow, we still have a long way to go.

So, what do you think? How do you describe hearing loss to your friends, family or people you aren’t that close with? Does it matter?

“The idea behind “hearing impaired” is that we are lesser human beings and must be fixed to function.

Those who suffer (dare I use “suffer”?) from mild to moderate hearing loss do not necessarily identify with the term deaf—a word that is historically loaded and also carries a distinction between capitalized and lowercase “d”. Uppercase “Deaf” reflects a community and a culture of identity, and carries pride similar to that of ethnic and religious groups. Lowercase “deaf” can reflect only severe to profound hearing loss, or hearing loss on the whole, depending who you ask.” – Christina The Name I Call Myself 

Join the discussion about this topic in the comments section, or on the Hearing Like Me forum!

does-deaf-define-me-aEditor’s note: This post was edited from its original form to represent the views of the new author.

3 thoughts on “The Minefield of Hearing-Related Terminology”

  1. To be honest, I don’t mind how my hearing /deafness is described. I think the issue is being completely defined by it that is the problem. For example, I wouldn’t like to be called ‘hearing impaired’ but don’t mind saying I have a hearing impairment.

    It’s the same as someone being defined by their medical condition as ‘the diabetic’, or the appendicitis in bed number three, rather than being a person with diabetes or the patient with appendicitis in bed number three. No one likes to be solely defined by a label.

  2. This amazing issue has created a ton of trouble in research literature. In order to write about hearing loss from a personal perspective or a professional one, one has to clarify the confusion surrounding all these terms if they want to be politically correct. It’s rather crazy and cumbersome when most opportunities to write also include limited space.

    I was born with ‘normal’ hearing. I started ‘losing’ hearing acuity when I was in my 20s. My hearing ability became ‘diminished’. I ‘lost’ the ability to hear as well as I had been able to. Is my hearing ‘impaired’? Yes. I now, decades later, have a 95+dB loss that is aided by technology. Am I ‘deaf’? Yes, I am clinically deaf. I am not ‘culturally’ Deaf, and never will be because I grew up with normal hearing. Although it is often difficult, I live, work and socialize in the hearing world. Sometimes that is a struggle. Do I ‘suffer’? At time I do suffer from stress and fatigue due to the energy I must use to communicate well. And, yes, I have a ‘disability’; a hearing disability, a ‘communication disorder’. Am I capable of communicating? Yes. My hearing mechanism is ‘impaired’, other parts of me are fine. I am a person with a ‘disability’ called ‘hearing loss’. Most important is personhood. I do not like terms like “THE deaf, THE hard of hearing, etc. because I am not an object. I am a person who happens to have hearing loss; a disability I have learned to cope with. Much preferable are terms such as “People who are deaf, Deaf or hard of hearing”. Even better, “People with hearing loss”.

    When we get so hung up on terminology, it’s easy to lose a reader who has no idea what’s really going on before they ever getting to the more interesting parts of the dialogue.

    Actually, I guess I’m ‘partially deaf’. (smile)

    Julie O.

  3. Thanks – I have gathered different terms from various sources related to hearing loss for past years as follows: (if you do have more terms not listed, please share with me – thanks.)

    Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder
    Auditory Processing Disorder (APD)
    Damaged Hearing
    Signing Impaired
    Deaf Impaired
    Hard of Hearing
    Hard of Deaf
    Profound Deaf Loss
    Hearing Challenged
    Hearing disabled
    Hearing Impediment
    Hearing Loss
    Inattentional Deafness
    Listening Disorder
    Non-Hearing Impediment
    Partially Hearing Loss
    Deaf-Hearing Person
    Sensorineural Hearing Loss

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