Deaf, hard of hearing, hearing impaired, normal, and mild, moderate and severe hearing loss are all different terms you may be familiar with. They describe various degrees of hearing, but is it time to reconsider our view of hearing and what is normal? Specifically, is it time to leave the term hearing impaired to the history books?
What is “normal hearing”?
Millions of Americans live with hearing loss. Diagnosed or undiagnosed, it is a fact of life. But, if we’ve learned anything in recent years, it’s that hearing loss isn’t as simple as experts once believed. It is very personal and very unique.
Two things have started to shift how we think of hearing and what is “normal”. First, as the limitations of standard hearing evaluations have come to light, and with them those diagnosed with “normal” hearing who still have trouble hearing, hearing healthcare professionals have begun to recognize the many variations of hearing. It’s not the black and white diagnosis that so many have believed.
Second, the important distinction between those who have been deaf since birth and those who have lost hearing later in life. It is many in the deaf community, those who have always heard differently as they commonly stress, who are questioning the wide use of the term hearing impaired and whether or not it is still relevant.
What does it mean to be hearing impaired?
While any difficulty hearing could be defined as hearing impairment, many are now pushing for this term to be abandoned in favor of others that highlight hearing ability instead of a hearing loss.
In the words of ReBecca Bennett in her recent article “Time for Change: Rethinking the Term ‘Hearing Impaired,’
We “hear” differently, but we are not impaired. As such, we need to reconsider the wide use of the term “hearing impaired” to reflect on our difference, but not a false disability.
Some people reading this might think it is a foolish concern to change the label “hearing impaired” to hard of hearing. They may think what deaf people experience is in fact an impairment. However, I argue that one cannot miss what one has never had. When we focus on people who are prelingually deaf and hard-of-hearing, the word “impaired” is not an accurate description.
The author goes on to highlight how using the word “impaired” implies that the person is somehow damaged and in need of repair when, in fact, these individuals see no disability and function fully and confidently. That such a limiting word no longer has a place in referencing those who are hard of hearing.
Not only could the term hearing impaired discount the uniqueness of each person’s hearing loss, but it could also discount the hearing abilities of those individuals.
While the term hearing impaired is still widely used, those pushing for more accurate, understanding and inclusive terms are making headway, even successfully changing references in the legal verbiage of several states.
In the meantime, it may be time to reconsider the term hearing impaired and how it’s used in our own day to day lives.