Val’s blog post touched a nerve in me. She didn’t consider herself “deaf” until she got her cochlear implant. Only then did she begin to identify herself as a deaf person.
I found myself nodding while reading her blog. This question of “When are you considered deaf?” comes up among hard-of-hearing and late-deafened people all the time.
Mostly what it boils down to is personal identity. There is no black and white answer where hard-of-hearing stops and deafness begins. Two people with the same audiograms may fall on different sides of the hard-of-hearing/deaf fence. Because of the complicated dynamics between various types of hearing losses, when they first occurred, and environmental factors, it’s hard to pin-point exactly how much one struggles to hear compared to another.
My own personal transition into deafness took a long time. A mild to moderate loss progressed into a moderate to profound ski-slope loss over thirty years. During that time I went through stages of denial, grief, shock, fear, then finally pride and acceptance. For several years, I used the term hearing-impaired– mainly because I didn’t know where I fit between hard-of-hearing or deaf. I had too much hearing loss to feel comfortable using the hard-of-hearing, but I wasn’t culturally Deaf either.
A turning point happened one beautiful day while skiing in the North Cascades. I had just gotten off a chairlift when a man with no legs whizzed by on a pair of skis built especially for him. Awestruck, I watched him navigate a double diamond with ease. Damn! He skied better with NO legs than everyone else around him. Was he DIS-abled??
Then, I got to thinking. . .What did it mean to be “impaired?” Subconsciously, what does that do to your psyche when you identify yourself as impaired? It sounds so broken– like you’re a reject. Was I “impaired?” Sure–my cochleas were dysfunctional, but I had overcome so many obstacles. “Impaired” put the focus on what I couldn’t do rather than what I COULD do. Too negative! I had accomplished a lot despite the daily challenges of living with hearing loss. I was proud of what I could do. “Impaired?” HA!
So I stopped using hearing-impaired. Still. . .since I didn’t know how to define my hearing loss, I decided not to define it at all. I simply told people my hearing was “very, very bad” as in, “I have very, very bad hearing and need to read your lips. Can you face me?”
It wasn’t until I took ASL and began applying it to my life that I started seeing myself as definitely deaf (with small d). And a funny thing happened. Once I admitted to being deaf, a huge weight lifted off my shoulders. I didn’t have to pretend to be hearing anymore. I am deaf. And it’s OK!!
If you don’t know where you belong in the Deaf/deaf/Hard-of-hearing slots, below are three on-line definitions of “deaf” I collected before writing this article. But remember, deafness is more about personal identification than anything else. What you feel most comfortable calling yourself is what you are.
Here’s the dictionary:
|1.||partially or wholly lacking or deprived of the sense of hearing; unable to hear.|
Generally, the term “deaf” refers to those who are unable to hear well enough to rely on their hearing and use it as a means of processing information.
The CAD (Canadian Association of Deaf):
The Canadian Association of the Deaf recognizes a person to be medically/audiologically deaf when that person has little or no functional hearing and depends upon visual rather than auditory communication. “Visual means of communication” include Sign language, lipreading, speech reading, and reading and writing. . .
Be sure to read both the CAD and NAD definitions carefully. Both go into great depth citing multiple sources.