Deaf vs. Hearing Impaired: What’s PC?

In the field of special education, it is especially important to be mindful of the terminology you use. Familiarizing yourself with politically correct terminology is a good way to ensure you don’t accidentally offend someone, but when does striving to be PC go too far?

What’s Politically Correct?

There is one case where this has proven to be a consistent issue. In an attempt to be PC, people who are not deaf often use the phrase “hearing impaired” to describe someone who is deaf. People think that the word “deaf” sounds too harsh or that it actually does offend members of the deaf community; however, the term “hearing impaired” is what is typically viewed as offensive among this community.

… The term “hearing impaired” is what is typically viewed as offensive among this community.

What makes it difficult to familiarize yourself with PC terms is the fact that they are constantly changing. Not too long ago, “mentally retarded” was a widely accepted medical diagnosis. Now, “mentally disabled” or “mentally handicapped” are used in diagnoses, and the r-word is avoided altogether.

Unfortunately, even after a term has been deemed out of date and not politically correct, it can take years for the new term to become accepted and adopted by the public. For example, the state of Pennsylvania still uses “hearing impaired” in one of their teaching certificates. Situations like this can make it difficult to enact change and raise awareness on any changes in PC terms.

Preferred Terms

Today, the most commonly accepted terms among those with hearing loss are deaf and hard-of-hearing. Most people who are hard-of-hearing dislike the term “hearing impaired,” because the word impaired implies that they are defective and need to be fixed.

… Most people who are hard-of-hearing dislike the term “hearing impaired.”

Of course, this is not true for every deaf person. Some people may not mind being called hearing impaired, and some may only want to be called hard-of-hearing. Everyone is different, so determining what term or phrase to use all depends on the person. A good rule of thumb is to simply ask what they prefer.