The labeling of the Deaf has gained much debate over the years. “Deaf/Mute”, “Deaf and Dumb”, and “imbeciles” are all antiquated terms that should be forever erased from Deaf history. Unfortunately, some continue to use such labeling. What the Deaf call themselves is much different than what hearing people prefer to label them. Modern day hearing people like to use terms that seem less offensive in their minds or once it’s spoken. They think by calling the Deaf “hearing impaired”, “handicap” or “hard of hearing” will essentially reduce the harshness level of calling someone “Deaf”. In this case, trying to be politically correct to identify someone who is deaf is not necessarily acceptable in this culture.
For the Deaf community, labeling them as “hearing impaired” is a mistake. Culturally Deaf individuals do not consider themselves impaired, nor do they feel as though they need to be fixed or cured of this so called “impairment”. There are plenty of Deaf lawyers, doctors, nurses, police officers, and government officials who can attest to this notion. The main terms used frequently in the Deaf community are as follows: Deaf, deaf (yes twice), Hard of Hearing (HH), Deaf Oral (D/O), Deaf/Blind, CODA, or Hearing. There isn’t any other sugar coating way to put it. If a Deaf person is profoundly deaf, you would not label them as “Hard of Hearing”. It simply is not appropriate for the profoundly deaf individual. One thing to recognize and note within the Deaf community is the Deaf’s desire to be as straight-forward as much as possible. They do not care for beating around the bush or being coy. They tactfully tell it like it is, and want to be told as such, in the same fashion.
The labels listed above are based on your extent of hearing loss, your method of communication, and how you identify yourself within the community. Notice “deaf” was mentioned twice. Below highlights each mode of deafness for better understanding.
Also known as “Big D” Deaf refers to people who are involved in the culture of deafness and share the values, behaviors, and language (ASL) of that culture (read Values of Deaf Culture articles for more information). It is possible to be Deaf/deaf and Deaf/HH. A person who is Deaf/deaf values Deafness as a culture and truly supports the culture. The individual lives life fully immersed in a Deaf World. They may choose to marry and socialize with deaf people, work in the field of Deaf-Studies or teaching ASL, worship at a Deaf church, and some devote time providing and developing ASL-resources for others.
Though rare, there are some hearing individuals, who are considered Deaf. They have cherished the values of the culture and adopted the rules of behaviors as their own. Many of which are complete advocates for the Deaf community and share as much as they can about the Deaf community.
“Little d” deaf is more medically related in terms of hearing loss. A person who is profoundly deaf will use a form of sign language to communicate. Many medical professionals, state and government facilities, and the educational system will use this term for notation purposes as a means to identify what they consider a disability.
It has been known for “Little d” deaf people to not associate with the culture of Deafness. This may result from growing up in a hearing family, where deafness was looked down upon and resented. Some deaf people refuse to learn ASL in fear of feeling or appearing different from the majority, which may leave them with delayed language acquisition and social awkwardness. Cochlear implants, hearing aides, audiology exams, and speech language therapy are all known attempts of some deaf individuals striving to hear despite having an extensive hearing loss resulting in the label “deaf”.
Hard of Hearing
Hard of Hearing (HOH or HH) people varies with hearing loss. There are some hard of hearing individuals who are deaf in one ear, but have full-functioning hearing in the other. They naturally would be placed in the “hard of hearing” category. Generally, people who are hard of hearing wear hearing aides to assist with hearing high pitch noises for emergency purposes. I italicized “assist” because often hearing people mistake hearing aides as a means to correct hearing. It is not.
Cochlear implants are also quite often seen on hard of hearing individuals, at which they can hear sounds and possibly even voices quite well. If used early enough, children are fully capable of hearing sounds well enough to start speaking on their own. ASL should still be used to help with acquisition of the English language. Audiologists and speech language pathologists are typically involved in the heard of hearing individual’s life to encourage correct pronunciations and proper English lexical skills. Most hard of hearing people don’t mind the label of “Deaf”; in fact, they embrace it! Though they may have assistive listening devices, they may choose to live in a totally Deaf World.
As previously mentioned, “Big D” Deaf is a cultural reference. Therefore, those who are Deaf/Oral (D/O) are physically without hearing, culturally recognizes Deafness, and were raised within a hearing family emphasizing speech as importance. Many Deaf/Orals are able to lipread or visually comprehend your oral speech.
Most Deaf/Orals become deaf later in life, or after they have acquired the spoken English language, thus the reasoning for the label. You may come in contact with those Deaf individuals whose speech is impeccable. They simply can not hear what they are saying. Many use ASL as their preferred receptive language, but chooses to verbalize their responses or replies.
Another form of Deafness is often related to that of Helen Keller, who was born deaf and blind. Those who are deaf and blind are taught ASL and braille; however, because ASL is a visual language, ASL is taught as tactile. Tactile signing is the use of ASL by means of the other sense: touch. This is truly an amazing way to communicate with Deaf/Blind individuals. There are certain cues and touches on the back and legs that mean certain feelings such as smiling, laughing, or crying. It is truly remarkable to know that interaction and communication is still possible despite the lack of two senses.
CODA, or Child of Deaf Adults basically means that deaf adults produced hearing children and used their first language, ASL, to communicate with their children. The children of Deaf parents naturally learn ASL as their first language and acquire English or spoken language as their second, likely in the educational system or around other hearing friends or family members.
CODAs tend to grow up as Deaf advocates or ASL interpreters. Depending on their Deaf parents involvement and acceptance of Deaf culture, CODAs are likely considered as “Big D” Deaf if they choose to accept the culture’s values and the rules of behaviors as their own.
Label comes from growing up in a hearing world: no hereditary deafness, spoken language is your primary means and your preferred method of communication, lack of signing skills (this can change!).
If you are interested in learning ASL or becoming “Big D” Deaf, contact the Unspoken Words team using the form below or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
***NOTE: Certainly each form of deafness can become confusing. Again, this all depends on the individual and what they prefer as a label. Depending on when the Deaf, HOH, D/O, or Deaf/Blind individual loses their hearing, will also determine their acceptance of Deaf culture and the language of Deafness. The later in life a person loses their hearing, the likelihood of them having a decreased willingness to learn ASL and accept the culture.