A Hearing Loss & Late Deafened Blog

Why I’m not ‘Hearing-Impaired’

In Hearing Loss on May 3, 2010 at 11:33 pm

This happened about ten years ago as I was beginning to come to terms with my hearing loss.  Those who have experienced a progressive hearing loss like mine will understand.  When you grow up hearing, it sometimes takes a while to realize that you are no longer a ‘hearing’ person.  I guess part of it is we still identify with hearing culture long after we’ve lost most of our hearing.

But anyway I was just learning about self-disclosure and trying on different labels– hard-of-hearing, deaf, etc.– when I glommed onto hearing-impaired.  The nice thing about the phrase ‘hearing-impaired’ is it implies nothing about how you communicate.  It seemed perfect.  Hearing people understood the phrase way better than hard-of-hearing.  (Please bear with me here if you find the phrase offensive.  I‘m not done.)

So I was up in the mountains skiing one beautiful day.  As I got off a ski lift, I felt so healthy and full of life.  If you have ever seen the sunset reflect pink and gold against the snow, that’s the kind of day it was.   And I was at the top of a mountain looking out over beautiful snow-colored valleys in every direction. Glorious– just glorious!

At that moment, I felt so lucky it was my hearing that went bad instead of my legs.  I thought of all the wonderful things I could still do instead of what I could not do.  WOW!  I could ski!  I could hike!  I could swim!  I could ride a bike!  I could do ANYTHING!

Then it happened.  A  double- amputee whooshed by on a sit-ski.  I still laugh when I think of it.  THIS guy had no legs and he skied even better than me.

That‘s when I stopped telling people I was ‘hearing-impaired.’  Disability/impairment is all in your mind.  Many  times I’ve been told that I’m a good listener.  I think it’s because I look people in the face when they’re talking.  Go figure.

  1. ‘Impairment’ seems a temporrary sort of description, a term invented by mainstream as ‘less likely to offend’ lol whereas if you are deaf it is a pretty permanent state of affairs. I do not have these issues of terms. There are only two states to consider (1) If I can hear and (2)If I can’t. (1) has a term HEARING, the other has a term DEAF. Simples… Why America has decided to add another 43 versions I am at a loss to know….

  2. I think everyone should be ask how they want to be labeled. Hearing Loss or Hearing impaired seem like a generic word for general population. It works well that way too. Like if public events want to let people know they have deaf and HOH accommodations/access provided for them, they will put down hearing impaired.

  3. I think this description fits your situation beautifully. I was born with a moderat-severe hearing loss. In the past, I have used ‘Hearing impaired’ and ‘hard of hearing’ interchangeably. I got to thinking about the definitions of each: you are only impaired by your environment, not by your ability to hear. So, ‘hard of hearing’ fits for me.

    For the hard of hearing population, there are many degrees of ability, different types of onset, and different accommodations. Every once in a while, like you, I remind myself that I have the use of my eyes and my hands, which I am so grateful to have.

  4. I loved reading about your thoughts when you saw the legless skier. I think it’s best to be as positive as possible about life’s challenges. For most of us, it could always be worse. I don’t pay much attention to labels. All I care about is being able to communicate with others. Since I often can’t hear them perfectly, I have to let them know why I act the way I do, why I ask for lots of repeats, why I don’t hear them when they talk behind me or into their hands, and so forth. I try to get that across in a way THEY can understand quickly and easily. If hard of hearing doesn’t work, maybe hearing impaired or deaf will.

  5. Loved your zen moment in the form of a double-amputee skier. It reveals that we’re limited only by our imaginations.

    Imagination has a lot to do with how a person perceives himself.

  6. MM–Why do Americans create so many labels? Because we’re American. LOL I happen to agree with you about the word deaf, except that it confuses others who think I should not speak. Sometimes it works best not to label it at all, don’t you think?

    DeafA–I am not offended by any terms except ‘deaf and dumb’ Mostly I just want accommodations

    Frieda “you are only impaired by your environment, not by your ability to hear. ” That’s a really profound statement. In my blog I usually refer to myself as ‘deaf’ for simplicity sake. I think many people would consider me more hard-of-hearing than deaf, but it really depends on the situation if I’m deaf or HH. Mostly, in real life I don’t label myself for people so much anymore. I start out telling them I don’t hear so well and that I need to read lips. If they’re really not comprehending, then I’ll add, “I’m having a very difficult time because I’m practically deaf, and could you please slow down or enunciate more clearly or whatever. . .”

    Jan– yes self-disclosure is important. It probably doesn’t matter so much what we call ourselves as long as we get what we need, which is for people to face us, to enunciate, to take their hands away from their mouths, to quit smacking their gum or whatever.

    Ann–thanks– I think when you lose your hearing it is hard to imagine a life in which you’ll feel normal again. And then one day it just happens.

  7. “I think when you lose your hearing it is hard to imagine a life in which you’ll feel normal again. And then one day it just happens.”

    One of the lucky few I think. For most life is never ‘normal’ again, how can it be ? Normality is hearing. Offer deaf a chance to hear something on a CI, and see how THEY fear that ‘normality’. They are terrified, angry, and everything hearing might feel when it goes… I’ve known people who go deaf and live with other deaf a lifetime who never feel their life is normal, they have adapted, but that isn’t acceptance, I think these two states often get mixed up. It’s when you have a quiet 10 minutes to yourself, it can hit you when you least expect. Even Tinnitus is mooted as the hearing brain struggling to re-introduced the sound input it has lost. Reading the text of something you heard years ago (Like a song being sung or similar), can also trigger sadness and depression, forget you ever heard ? it doesn’t happen. You would need to consciously suppress it 24/7.

  8. MM–Hmmm. Interesting points you made here. There’s a difference between acceptance and adapting. I have adapted, yes. I like to think I have accepted my limitations too. I don’t enjoy the fact that I can’t hear though. If I could have perfect hearing back (and I do mean perfect hearing, not electronic hearing through an implant), I would go for it. Absolutely! Still, I can’t say I would trade the life I’ve led as an HH/deaf person. In other words if I could go back in time and live my life over as someone who could hear, I’m not sure I would do that. As painful as it has been at times, I realize I am the person I am now because of the hearing loss and so many other life experiences both good and bad.

    In a way I see hardship and adversity as a normal part of life. Maybe I don’t believe ‘normal’ exists. Thing is, I have hearing friends who have experienced so much pain. I don’t think anyone gets through life unscathed. Admittedly some have a worse time of it than others. Most of us fall along the ‘normal’ continuum more often than not. So while hearing loss may not be considered normal, I can still say my life is mostly normal.

  9. It can hit you twice as hard as it did me. When I was HoH that was a very bad time for me as I lacked support for 15 years to cope with it, it was impossible to prolong any meaningful relationship with a partner, then I went totally deaf. In some respects relief thatthe uncertainty had now gone,then total fear as to how to live with it. I did manage in the end to have a wife, then I had a child, my first and only. THEN all the uncertainty kicked in again and has continued all is life. He needs me to hear it is as simple as that. The sheer amount of daily/hourly effort you HAVE to put in to lip-read and manage communications takes considerable effort and dedication. To say I am often totally exhausted is an understatement, but you do what you do for your child. in short I was NOT ALLOWED to BE a deaf person is the only way I can express it. My involvement with my son would have been remote if I had, my piece of mind therefore is secondary to that.

  10. Yes– I understand that it has been very difficult for you for the reasons you explain. Hearing loss is hard on relationships. We tend to put our childrens’ needs before our own.

    I have had it much easier than you for so many reasons, so I don’t mean to sound like I’m trivializing your experiences. We’re all different. We all lead different lives.

  11. Kim —

    I have to say I disagree with your dislike of the term “hearing impaired”. People with normal hearing understand this term much better than “hard of hearing” and for me it works to describe my situation — I am not deaf, or Deaf, or even really “hard of hearing,” which to me implies that I can hear if I just try hard enough (and that is how that term is interpreted by the hearing people I work with/spend time with). My hearing IS impaired — that’s just the most honest and accurate description I can give. I don’t think it means “disabled” or “handicapped” or any of the other terms one could use that imply “less than.” It simply accurately describes my condition in a way that people can understand.

    And I disagree that disability is all in the mind. There are things I simply cannot reliably do, no matter what kind of technology or accommodation I use, such as answer the phone. I cannot function on the same level as a hearing person in these areas, so yes, I have a disability. I use whatever technology I can to improve my ability in this area. Hearing loss is not like having poor vision, where for most people glasses or contacts will give near-normal vision. For most of us, even with the best hearing aids (I have a pair of top-of-the-line aids, and they help a lot — in a quiet environment with good acoustics talking one-on-one when my hearing is having a good day, lol) we still struggle. The experience you describe seeing the amputee skiiing is beautiful, but doesn’t really apply in my opinion to the day-to-day challenges of a hearing loss, where technology doesn’t enable us to function on the same level as a person whose hearing is not impaired.

    I don’t know why people are so afraid of admitting a vulnerability; other people can’t help, and we reinforce stereotypes, when we are afraid to accept and communicate our limitations.

    Just my two cents.

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