some thoughts on “hearing loss”

I’m seeing various comments around the ‘net indicating that for some, “hearing loss” is a reasonably acceptable umbrella term for all deafies, at least as used by hearies. I’m not that convinced, and I’d like to explain why…

One thing I’ve noticed in reading through blogs by deaf people (and “deaf” I do consider an absolutely umbrella term) is that the biggest difference I see between all the various “types” of deaf people is that between those who were born deaf (or deafened very young) and those who became deaf later in life. There is a (very understandable) sense of loss among the latter group. They used to do hearing related activities and can no longer do so. They used to depend on hearing in certain situations and feel uncertain and off balance now that they cannot do so.

I understand that feeling and certainly sympathize! I only have to think of how I would feel if I suddenly could not see or walk. Nevertheless, these reactions and feelings do not apply to me.

I read about one late-deafened adult who writes that he no longer drives as much, because he’s afraid of overlooking or missing something he would not have before losing his hearing and thus get into an accident of some sort. This is legitimate for him. But it does not apply to me, because what is really at issue here is that he has a habit based on hearing that is hampering him. It is a habit that I never acquired.

Now, this is all well and good, except for one thing. We will have hearies who look at this man’s statements and say, “See!! Deaf people shouldn’t be allowed to drive, they’re a menace on the road!” and point to this for justification. Where can we even begin with this kind of mixup?

This is why I don’t care for the term “Hearing Loss”. It has implicit a number of assumptions including that a person with “hearing loss” MISSES THE HEARING! Misses their hearing! In other words, it is not a neutral description. It presupposes a particular mindset or way of looking at one’s deafness.

It’s like when my last audiologist, upon hearing that I don’t always wear my hearing aids out in public, was shocked and warned me about the hazards such as maybe getting run over by a car. She stopped speaking when she saw the look on my face, I wish I’d seen it myself. But honestly! Getting run over by a car? I never had the habit of listening for oncoming cars, puh-leeeeze! But a late deafened person? Yes, that might be an issue for them, absolutely.

The problem is that late deafened people tend to reinforce what hearing people think about deafness, because late deafened WERE hearing. And they NOW miss their hearing and go through difficulties exactly as hearing people would imagine, because they share the same starting point. This is also where you have people who reject the term deaf because they didn’t start out deaf, and they may also be in denial about the consequences and extent to which they are now deaf.

Born & early deafened people don’t share those traits. We never started out with the same worldview and assumptions. But hearing people still assume these same things apply to us.

So in the end, I have many reservations about the term “Hearing Loss”. Let me make it clear, that I welcome all people who are deaf, whatever the cause, and whenever it happened. But just as I, an orally educated deafie, have some different issues than other deaf folk (such as no knowledge of sign language), a late deafened deafie 🙂 will have some different issues, that I think are very well described under “hearing loss”.

I don’t know if there’s a simple across the board description for us all that we would all accept. I mean, I think little-d “deaf” is perfect for all of us, but as has been pointed out on DeafRead, late deafened people (and perhaps also a number of hard of hearing (HOH) esp. late HOH) don’t always identify with that term.

I dunno. As I understand it “Deaf and Hard of Hearing” evolved to address issues the HOH had, but “Deaf, Hard of Hearing, and Those With Hearing Loss” is one hell of a mouthful! 🙂 Which is what keeps bringing me back to the nice, simple, one syllable, term “deaf”.

What do you all think about an umbrella term that’s inclusive, neutral, and doesn’t reinforce inappropriate stereotypes. Does such a term potentially exist?

I think there’s also another issue of what is acceptable to hear coming from hearies versus fellow deaf, but that’s a whole ‘nother topic of its own…

P.S. I realize this is a post that could be characterized as lots of talktalktalk and little progressive action (which is really the sort of thing I prefer as well to be honest) but in sorting out what I really do want to call myself, and as a part of my own deafhood journey, I have been considering these things. And I keep coming back to “deaf” which is what I called myself as a child and for reasons which are still perfectly valid to me even as I re-examine those assumptions…

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8 Responses to some thoughts on “hearing loss”

  1. Howard Smith says:

    To me, “hearing loss” and “hearing impairment” are not nasty words in comparsion with “deaf and dumb” or “deaf-mute”. However, “hearing loss” may be the wrong term to define some deafies. For example, I was born STONE deaf and have not yet experienced to lose my hearing any further. In my case, I have not had a little bit of “hearing loss”. Some people were polite to ask me to tell them how my “hearing loss” occurred. I just said I was born STONE deaf and have not lost any hearing loss!!!!
    Thank you for asking.

  2. Janis says:

    Does such a term potentially exist?

    Hm. I’m not entirely sure such a term does exist — I think Deaf and deaf is the best one, but that’s odd in terms of a Venn diagram. You have “deaf,” meaning everyone with dicey ears. *shrug* If you want to say it that way. And you have “Deaf” meaning those who … well, are on another yardstick than people defined as “creatures who can sense and use pressure differences in air.”

    Deaf is essentially a whole `nother way of being human — but still human, clearly.

    So there’s “doesn’t hear” versus “lives a life where the ability to sense pressure waves in air doesn’t enter into it.”

    There’s also “deaf from birth” versus “late-deafened.” In terms of Venn diagrams, I don’t think there IS a set of terms that can be used simultaneously for both of these spectra: where one is culturally, and whether one considers not hearing to be a loss of some other state that one has experienced before and wishes to return to.

    Then, you even have people like King Jordan who, for all his despotic tendencies, is an example of a late-deafened person who, when asked in 1988 on “60 Minutes” one time whether he’d take a pill to restore his hearing, shrugged and said no. He’s what I’d call late-deafened, but has become (at least as far as he’s concerned) Deaf.

    I think the word “loss” is really at the center of the whole self-definition, now that I think about it … It’s certainly a word worth ruminating on.

  3. Janis says:

    You know, I’m thinking now that the only term that counts for all is simply “doesn’t hear.” That’s it — not can’t, not can’t anymore, not doesn’t even want to, not doesn’t give a damn.

    Doesn’t hear. Ears serve no purpose (whether they did at one time or not, whether they can be bumped up to some usefulness with hearing aids or not, whether they can use CIs or not).

    “So-and-So doesn’t hear.”

    That’s the only broad term.

    Take that as the large circle. Then, two smaller circles inside that one, nonoverlapping:

    “Doesn’t miss it.”

    “Does miss it.”

    Note that this diagram has nothing to do with cultural Deafness. I don’t think you can make one diagram that includes that as well as the things I’ve sketched out. Hm.

    I suppose it’s like any two independent variables — they’re orthogonal to one another, so you CAN’T choose a value for X that absolutely constrains your value for Y. You just can’t — certainly not when you start to include CODAs, who are culturally as Deaf as anyone, but … well, not.

  4. Craig says:

    well, the defination of hearing loss or hearing disability mean nothing just definate in itself. In fact, for some people feel comfortable with the term that please hearing people more accepted. Do we have thinking loss, seeing loss, feeling loss, touching loss and hearing loss? What is the problem? Continue to confuse many of us? Why can’t we keep simple defination of deaf or deaf=mute?

  5. I should also clarify that I’m not offended by these terms (I may roll my eyes, especially at “hearing impaired,” but am not offended). What I’m trying to convey is how they don’t feel applicable to me personally (which is frankly also the same problem late deafened people may have with “deaf” in their turn).

    As for “doesn’t hear” technically I’d say you’re correct, except that it feels like describing women as “aren’t men”. Which is also technically correct, but places a “norm” outside of the group we’re talking about.

    Although, the more I think of it, perhaps it’s best that there isn’t an umbrella term, particularly because so many hearies seem to be utterly clueless about the rich variety of deaf people. Coming up with a single umbrella term acceptable to all may just make it easier for lazy hearies to continue lumping us all together.

    Makes it tough for an organization meant for us all, though 😉 NAD becomes, what? NADHOHALD?

  6. Janis says:

    I don’t know if it’s like describing women are “not men,” entirely. I think it might be like describing “post-menopausal women” as “nonmenstruating women.” It’s not that there is a totalyl different body structure in place of the ears — the ears (and uterus) are still there. They just may not do anything.

    Hm. Have to think about this. Because I think if you’re going to group a bunch of people together who have nothing in common except their deviation frmo a standard, that’s almost the only way you can describe them. I’m sure that late-deafened folks often do think of themselves in terms of their deviation from that standard, in which they may have lived for most of their lives.

    I think you’d have to either use “doesn’t hear” to cast the net wide enough to include everyone, or else cast a few slightly overlapping nets. (Because I think honestly, that the only thing that a born-Deaf person and a late-deafened adult will really have in common is the annoyances that come along for the ride when dealing with technology that assumes you CAN hear, and dealing with hearing people who also assume you can hear. That deviation may be all they have in common.)

    Hm … *thinkthinkthink*

  7. What I’m trying to get across is that I’d rather be defined in terms of what I am (deaf) and NOT in terms of what I am not (hearing) which is why any term containing “hearing” is going to get a thumbs down from me. In that respect, it’s exactly like describing women as “not men” despite the body parts and bits actually being different.

    I think in the end, “deaf” IS an umbrella term, with some deaf individuals undergoing a process of actual hearing loss and/or denial who will not accept that term.

    I’m not sure there IS any one umbrella term possible unless/until there is a sea-shift in cultural thinking, and I’m not talking Deaf culture either.

  8. I think ABC/John’s got it: DEAF IMPAIRED. 😀