The Term “Hearing Impaired” – what does that really mean?

the term hearing impaired

When someone is living a way of life that is different from others, this doesn’t mean they are unable to enjoy life. If two people from different parts of the world meet but don’t speak the same language, this doesn’t mean they can’t communicate. For those living with deafness or hearing loss, it doesn’t mean they aren’t living.

Many people who are born unable to hear have no concern that they are missing out on anything in life. They learn a different language, much like someone from a foreign country. They are able to learn to communicate, it just requires a slightly different skill set than the hearing world.

People who hail from the deaf community are by no means ‘impaired’ as the term ‘hearing impaired’ would lead one to believe. Many actually don’t even care to hear. For those who have never heard a spoken word, the thought of being able to seem strange and unnatural.

The term “hearing impaired” can be considered very offensive to people who are deaf or hard of hearing. This term can be taken to mean that people who have difficulties hearing are deficient in some way, or defective. There are different terms that are known to represent certain hearing situations.

  • Deaf- usually used to describe those who have zero or minimal functional hearing. They are often expected to communicate solely with sign language.
  • Hard of Hearing- usually used to describe those with some hearing loss, though it’s mild and they have the ability to communicate through both spoken or sign language.
  • Hearing Impaired- makes a reference to anyone with some degree of hearing loss, whether severe or minimal. This term is offensive and demeaning to those living with hearing loss.

While they do learn and communicate differently, the people of these communities are leading productive, active lives. They have friends, families, and jobs. They go out with friends, enjoy activities such as working out, spending time at the beach, and volunteering at their kids’ school.

Many hold high powered successful jobs outside the home. Some are educators, accountants, or computer programmers. Some own their own business or help others to live their dream. They are proud of their status and proud of the fact that they are able to get along in the world on their own.

Not everyone with hearing loss was born with it. Decreased hearing can be caused by a multitude of different experiences.

  • Prolonged exposure to excessively loud noises
  • Sudden, loud blasts such as gunshots, explosions, sirens or even something loud and heavy hitting the floor
  • Childhood illness
  • Age
  • Heredity
  • Injury
  • Physical injury
  • Issues related to pregnancy

Hearing loss can be found in varying degrees and is generally classified as one of the following:

  • Mild- These individuals may have trouble hearing soft voices or small children. Consonant sounds can be difficult to hear. This is similar to a hearing person wearing earplugs.
  • Moderate- Vowels become less obvious and while they can hear while not wearing a hearing aid, they don’t always understand what they hear.
  • Severe- Without an assistive hearing device such as cochlear implants or a hearing aid, speech is no longer audible. Sometimes speech is inaudible even with hearing aids.
  • Profound- This group will miss the normal sounds around them without the benefit of a hearing device, but they may even miss loud sounds like traffic, alarms, or train whistles while wearing them.

According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, this is referred to as “the degree of hearing loss”, which is rated in decibels. For those with hearing loss, these sounds may or may not register, depending on the degree of the loss.

No matter what level of hearing loss one is living with, most prefer not to be referred to as hearing impaired. The overall consensus is to use the correct terminology for the degree. Deaf or hard of hearing are much preferred, compared to what they feel they are being labeled as when they’re referred to as impaired.  Many feel it refers to what they are not able to do and isolates and stigmatizes them as handicapped.

Though once viewed as politically correct, many who have taken offense to the term are now lobbying to have their states remove the term from all state laws. This has been successful in New Hampshire, New York, and Virginia, with other states hovering on the edge of change.

For those living with deafness or hearing loss, there is no shame in going out in public with your family, eating dinner in an elegant restaurant, or watching a movie with your kids. The only difference is that those around you may talk with their hands, the movie has closed caption turned on, or your chair may need to face those you’re speaking with.

Adults and children alike who deal with a decreasing ability to hear should be proud of themselves for all they see and all they do. They can be influential in another’s life, they can bring comfort to someone who is ailing, and they can take a minute to stop and enjoy life as it ebbs and flows around them. They are in no way impaired, they are individuals, living their own life in their own way.

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