Deaf People are not Dumb
The current terms in use by the deaf community worldwide today are deaf and hard of hearing. In 1991, the World Federation of the Deaf (WFD) voted to use the official terms deaf and hard of hearing. The Ghana National Association of the Deaf (GNAD) supports these terms, and are used by most organizations involved with the Deaf community. Evolving terminology allows individuals to describe themselves based on their hearing status, cultural orientation and communication preferences.
Many academic experts, media (print and TV), Psychologist, Medical experts and some individuals thinks that using the term “Deaf” for those that have hearing loss is rude. It is not rude as deemed. The term hearing impaired is considered rude and majority of deaf people feels it sounds like they are “broken”.
Each deaf or hard of hearing person is unique in his or her hearing status and ability to communicate using spoken language.
Been Deaf is NOT dumb
Recently my deaf friend who is uncomfortable with the term “hearing loss” pointed out by saying “I was born deaf. So I haven’t ‘lost’ anything”.
“Deaf and dumb” (or even just “dumb”, when applied to deaf people who do not speak is an archaic term that is considered offensive.)
Many Deaf people do not use a spoken language, thus they are technically “mute”. The word “dumb” has at least an archaic meaning that means “mute”. Of course, the word “dumb” also has another more common meaning now that implies stupidity, which is certainly not applicable to most Deaf people.
Given the long history of deafness, and the fact that Deaf people have been incorrectly assumed to be mentally deficient just because they do not speak, you can imagine that most Deaf people do not appreciate being called “Deaf and Dumb”.
Today, anyone using the word “dumb” in such context is …. well … dumb.
How are the terms deaf, deafened, hard of hearing, and hearing impaired typically used?
There is often confusion over the terms “hearing impaired,” “hard of hearing,” “deaf,” and “deafened,” both in definition and appropriateness of use.
The term “hearing impaired” is often used to describe people with any degree of hearing loss, from mild to profound, including those who are deaf and those who are hard of hearing. Many individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing prefer the terms “deaf” and “hard of hearing,” because they consider them to be more positive than the term “hearing impaired,” which implies a deficit or that something is wrong that makes a person less than whole.
“Deaf” usually refers to a hearing loss so severe that there is very little or no functional hearing. “Hard of hearing” refers to a hearing loss where there may be enough residual hearing that an auditory device, such as a hearing aid or FM system, provides adequate assistance to process speech.
“Deafened” usually refers to a person who becomes deaf as an adult and, therefore, faces different challenges than those of a person who became deaf at birth or as a child.
Deaf, deafened, and hard of hearing individuals may choose to use hearing aids, cochlear implants, and/or other assistive listening devices to boost available hearing. Alternatively, or in addition, they may read lips, use sign language, sign language interpreters, and/or captioning.
People who are deaf or hard of hearing may have speech that is difficult to understand due to the inability to hear their own voice.
The Name Game
Recent news has brought our attention to our language and terms we use to describe each other. Countless labels involving race or gender are widely known and deemed to be distasteful, insulting, or just politically or socially incorrect. Unlike these, individuals and the media and other experts in various fields continue to use the term Deaf and dumb, Hearing Impaired.
Many in the Deaf Community have fought tirelessly over the years to change the terminology used to describe individuals with varying levels of hearing.
As a kid, I remember hearing “Deaf and Dumb“. I knew that “dumb” referred to an inability to speak, but the other meaning of the word crept into my awareness causing me to see deaf people as mentally diminished in some way.
Deaf-Mute was the proper term….until we learned that the majority of deaf people DO have the ability to speak. So “mute” was no longer appropriate.
Hearing Impaired – still not right. This label again emphasizes what a deaf person cannot do…..instead of the endless things they can do.
Disabled – No again. Most deaf people do not see themselves as disabled. They can do everything except hear.
Handicapped? – No. See above……
Prelingually deaf refers to individuals who were born deaf or became deaf prior to learning to understand and speak a language. Postlingually deaf or late deafened describes a person who lost hearing ability after he or she learned to understand spoken language. These distinctions are important as they may determine a person’s familiarity with and memory of spoken English. These terms do not relate to intelligence or potential.
So let’s keep things simple. Deaf people are very much like hearing people, except they can hear. You’re pretty safe from offending a deaf person by using “deaf” or “hard of hearing” ……and don’t worry. If you slip up and use one of the older terms. Most deaf people I know will happily educate you regarding the proper terminology.
GNAD Advocacy Officer