General Question

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

Where did the idea that "hearing impaired" is more PC than "deaf" come from?

Asked by MyNewtBoobs (19041points) November 2nd, 2010

I’ve heard several times recently that the term “hearing impaired” is the PC term for “deaf”. Which seems weird to me, because the Deaf community rejects the term. That was the absolute first thing we learned in my ASL class – “hearing impaired” is offensive. So where does the idea that it’s less offensive come from? Are people just mixing it up, or was there a change awhile back that I don’t know about? What’s going on here?

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30 Answers

lillycoyote's avatar

I’m not sure it is a PC term. There are degrees of hearing impairment from slight impairments that might require no intervention or help to a “hearing impairment” that might require some type of hearing aid, the kind of hearing impairment that can happen as people age, or have some injury to an impairment resulting in pretty much complete deafness. I’ve always thought the term as something that defines a category of impairment. My father wasn’t deaf. But he needed hearing aids. He was hearing impaired, or “hard of hearing” as they used to say.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

@lillycoyote Hard of hearing is still used – although it’s a term used by the hearing community, not the Deaf community. The term in the Deaf community is mildly deaf, moderately deaf, severely deaf, or profoundly deaf.
The term “impaired” means that something is lacking or damaged, instead of simply different.

Blueroses's avatar

Brought to you by the same people who think “handicapable” is clever and better for all of us. My deaf friend uses the term deaf and my “hearing impaired” relatives are too old for PC, so they say they’re “going deaf”.

JLeslie's avatar

I definitely feel it is a PC thing. My grandfather was hard of hearing, that is what we called it back then. I also had cousins (not actually related) who we said were deaf, but they could hear some noises, and wore hearing aids. I have no idea who decided it would be more polite to use hearing impaired. Maybe it was an attempt to help the general public understand some deaf people are not actually living in complete silence? Just guessing.

mattbrowne's avatar

In Germany it’s PC to distinguish between the two. In the first case I might have to raise my voice. In the second case my lip movements should be easy to read.

BarnacleBill's avatar

People sometime say “Are you deaf?!” to infer “Are you stupid?”

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

Important terminology to use for people with hearing loss. The umbrella term for all people who have hearing loss is “people with hearing loss.” The subcategories are “deaf people” and “hard of hearing people.” Please use these terms in their proper context. Do not say “the hearing impaired, the deaf, or the hard of hearing.” Use “people with hearing loss, deaf people, and hard of hearing people,” or “people who are deaf or hard of hearing.” People is the optimum word. Similarly, use “people with disabilities,” or “people who are disabled.” Don’t categorize the individual by his or her disability. Source

@BarnacleBill Could you be confusing “deaf” with “daft”? I have heard people use “Are you deaf?” when addressing someone who hasn’t followed instructions that they were given and something went awry. “Are you daft?” is used when someone does something foolish or insane.

perspicacious's avatar

No idea; I say deaf.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

@mattbrowne The first case being hearing impaired, or deaf, or hard of hearing, or mildly deaf?

Kayak8's avatar

My Deaf friends and I say Deaf and hard of hearing (signed H-H).

iamthemob's avatar

Hearing impaired is the PC term when we’re dealing with the full class of individuals who have hearing loss to an extent that it could be considered a disability. The deaf community has a culture of people ranging generally from functionally to profoundly deaf – the far end of the impaired spectrum – and deaf people are fully proud of the culture they’ve developed, and proud of being called deaf generally (although one can never generalize about a full community).

JLeslie's avatar

@Pied_Pfeffer @BarnacleBill I have never heard deaf used synonomously for stupid, except when someone is not understanding something the phrase, “are you deaf?” is used to signify the person must not be hearing if they cannot get what I am talking about. Daft does mean stupid, and as we know dumb means stupid, but really means mute, just as a side note.

mattbrowne's avatar

@papayalily – To me there’s deafness or no deafness. Maybe this helps

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

@mattbrowne No, I’m still confused. I read the Wikipedia article, and you’ll see how at the end of the first paragraph it says that the Deaf community rejects the term “impaired” – hence the question. But deaf or no deafness, do you mean that anyone with hearing loss is deaf and the rest aren’t, or that anyone who isn’t profoundly deaf isn’t deaf?

I’m also still confused when you said “the first term”. What was the first term in my question that you were referring to.

Kayak8's avatar

One thing I do see is the Deaf spell the word with a capital “D” when talking about the community.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

@Kayak8 Yes. Big D deaf means the community and being a part of it, little d deaf means a loss of hearing. You can be deaf without being Deaf, and you can be Deaf and hearing.

filmfann's avatar

My wife is deaf, and proud of it. When she hears the expression Hearing Impaired, she gets defensive. She is Profoundly Deaf, as opposed to being hard of hearing.
However, she hates the term Deaf and Dumb. She isn’t dumb, and doesn’t like it when stupid hearing people say that.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

@filmfann Do you know where the idea that hearing impaired is PC came from?

When people refer to her as deaf and dumb, are they saying deaf and stupid or deaf and mute? Not that either one makes it less offensive, I’m just curious.

Good for her for being proud of it. I watched Children of a Lesser God the other night, and my blood was boiling from how insanely offensive it was.

jerv's avatar

I find this question a little perplexing since it presumes that the overly PC crowd actually has rhyme or reason to their actions.

That said, I think it safe to stipulate that it was probably some sort of collective effort amongst them that originated in the dark recesses of the sort of warped minds I do not want to explore enough to find out exactly where this bullshit idea came from.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

@jerv It’s a question about the history of a term, not your own personal beef PCness.

jerv's avatar

@papayalily I have since found the term used as early as 1933 .

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

@jerv Hmm. So then would that make it un-PC? The Deaf movement wasn’t until roughly 3 decades later…

jerv's avatar

Apparently so.

Then again, euphemisms are nothing new. I mean, the Victorian era is chock full of delicate phraseology for all sorts of things and there are probably things that predate that that are not springing to mind immediately, so I think that it may depend on whether you are referring to Political Correctness in it’s current, rabid incarnation or mere use of “soft language”.

mattbrowne's avatar

I wasn’t aware that term ‘hearing impaired’ might sound offensive and am glad that this was mentioned. I will try to avoid the term.

@filmfann – How would your wife call someone who is not deaf, but requires a acoustic hearing apparatus? Hard of hearing?

@papayalily – We need to figure out how we can best describe people who are not deaf.

filmfann's avatar

@mattbrowne Hard of Hearing is the term for people with a hearing loss, with more hearing than my wife.

mattbrowne's avatar

@filmfann – So we got

1) healthy
2) hard of hearing
3) deaf

without leaving any group out?

Kayak8's avatar

I am hard of hearing (and quite healthy) and my Deaf friends are also healthy. What about
1) Hearing
2) Hard of Hearing
3) Deaf


filmfann's avatar

There is also Stone Deaf. All of these, except Stone Deaf, have degrees of hearing.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

@filmfann I thought they were a band….

mattbrowne's avatar

@Kayak8 – Good point. Hearing is far better than ‘healthy’.

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