Should I refer to anyone who cannot hear as hearing impaired?

Customers often ask MT & Associates what D/deaf employees, patients, and community members should be referred to as.  Often, due to uncertainty, the average “hearing” person feels that referring to them as hearing impaired is the best option. “Hearing impaired” is, however, generally considered offensive and should not be used.  If that is true, then how do you refer to someone who cannot hear?sign language deaf hearing impaired

What is a better term?

People who are D/deaf are culturally diverse so there is not a “one size fits all” term.  Diversity most usually depends on when the person became D/deaf.  If they were born deaf or at least were deaf as a child, they may be more likely to refer to themselves as culturally Deaf. These D/deaf people typically learn the beautiful language of sign and embrace every piece of it.  Some people who are D/deaf may never have the desire to hear and some may learn sign language. Or perhaps they never learn sign language. Some write back and forth, and some read lips.  Overall, they do not find that being D/deaf is an impairment at all. So being referred to as “hearing impaired” assumes there is something wrong with them.  The only thing they cannot do is hear.

Deaf or Hard of Hearing?

Some D/deaf people lose their hearing over time and/or may only have a slight hearing loss.  This could be because of a childhood disease that worsens with age.  Or perhaps they are a soldier who lost their hearing in an wartime explosion.  Depending on the person, D/deaf people in this “category” may also refer to themselves as D/deaf.  But they sometimes refer to themselves Hard of Hearing (HOH).

It’s important to understand that this information does NOT emphasize one size fits all.  There are various D/deaf consumers, and not everyone will want to be referred to in the same manner.  It’s important to ask the person how they would like to be identified, just like with any other cultural group, so that people know that they cannot hear.

Generally, D/deaf sign language users prefer to be referred to as D/deaf or hard of hearing.   Hearing impaired, mute, and deaf-mute are usually considered highly offensive and should never be used, unless it is preferred by the person with the hearing loss.

In closing, when in doubt, introduce them as being D/deaf and do not be offended if they need to correct you with how they culturally identify themselves.

Missouri Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing

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MT & Associates | Sign Language Interpreting Practice BBB Business Review