What’s in a name?

I called this blog more than a bit deaf with some trepidation, because the terms people use to describe their hearing loss can be a bit of a minefield.  What am I – someone with a hearing loss? hearing impaired? hard of hearing? deaf? deafened?. I would say yes to any of those descriptions.  There is no standard way to describe hearing loss.  Indeed, how I refer to myself has changed a lot over time, because so has my hearing.

Right now, I almost always describe myself as deaf, because I have learnt that is the best way to get people to realise just how poor my hearing is.

In the beginning, my hearing loss was a diagnosis rather than anything that had much practical impact.  I might have said “I’ve been told my hearing has been affected by a bad dose of the flu I had last year – it might get worse as I get older” but mainly I just ignored it.  I was able to.

When I first wore hearing aids I probably would have said I was hard of hearing, or had hearing problems.  At this stage my understanding of speech was certainly being affected.  Things weren’t too bad though.  I would have been starting to ask people to repeat themselves but I could still confidently use the telephone.

As things worsened I moved on to digital hearing aids.  By this time I was definitely having problems understanding speech.  Perhaps I would have said “I have very poor hearing”.  And then I distinctly remember starting to say “I’m deaf”.  Why?  Because I learnt that was the best way to get across to people that my hearing was actually pretty lousy.  The follow up information is crucial – for example, “I need to lip read to understand you so please could you face me when you are speaking” – but first you have to get the person’s attention.  I found that saying “I’m hard of hearing” led to people assuming I could understand much more than I can.

Some people with hearing loss strongly dislike some terminology.  They may feel, for example, that the term “hearing impaired” implies that they are impaired as a person.  I can see what they mean but I don’t feel it that way.  My hearing IS impaired.  Saying that doesn’t make me feel that I am.  (But I try to avoid the term, because of how much other people hate it).

Some people associate the word deaf exclusively with people who sign.  People who sign certainly describe themselves as deaf and sometimes as Deaf (with a capital D).  So I felt nervous at first about using the term deaf about myself.  I haven’t learnt to sign, because I have lived for 60 years in a world of hearing people – hearing pretty well myself for most of that time.  My friends, family and acquaintances almost all hear and I want to stay in that world with them.  For me, describing myself as deaf was a move I made entirely for practical purposes and the name of this blog sums up what I am.