I’ve been seeing quite the kerfuffle on a few Facebook groups lately about labels and not the itchy, scratchy kind on the back of your T-shirt. Labels for people. In the Deaf community, as I recently learned, the label “hearing impaired” can be apparently quite offensive.
Now, I am deaf, but I am not Deaf. This too is another label that I’ve been trying to wrap my brain around. Apparently Deaf, with a capital D, indicates born deaf and/or a part of the Deaf community. On the other hand, deaf (lower case d) indicates late deafened or hard of hearing. I also wrongly assumed that deaf meant zero hearing or so little hearing that assistive devices do not help; and hard of hearing (or hearing impaired) means diminished hearing of which hearing aids can provide assistance. It appears that the term “deaf” encompasses all three of those terms.
Personally, I prefer the differentiation between someone who uses aids and can hear sounds verses someone who is unable to hear any sounds. I suppose my reasoning behind this is to help people better understand the spectrum of loss. Up until the point where I lost all hearing in my good ear, I would have never labeled myself as deaf, but hearing impaired or hard of hearing.
So this brings me back to the topic of labels. Labels actually serve a good purpose. Consider food labels on canned goods. Without the label, you’d have no way of knowing what is inside and what kind of care/handling that product requires. Likewise, labels for people can serve a good purpose too. They can help people understand in a word or two, what struggles or issues that person may face. Autistic, visually impaired, blind, hard of hearing, epileptic, diabetic, etc. are all labels that get applied to people. Of course, not all labels have to indicate a disease or condition and these are just a tiny fraction of the labels out there, but this is the filter I am writing through.
What bothers me the most, is the way that some people get offended simply by the terminology that is used. Hearing Impaired vs Hard of Hearing for instance. For some reason, the term “impaired” is seen as offensive. Being that I am such an impaired person, I have difficulty taking offense to that term. If saying I am hearing impaired helps those around me to understand the struggles I face, then why not use it? I am not ashamed of my labels. I may not be exactly proud of them either, but it is what it is. I am deaf, I am epileptic, I am an entrepreneur, I am a wife, I am a mother, I am a daughter… These are all labels that can be applied to me. Each one gives a tiny snapshot of who I am, and none define me completely.
So while it would be great in theory to remove all labels and see each person as the same, those little labels are what make each of us unique and can help others get to know us a bit better. What we need to do is simply accept who we are and wear our own labels regardless of what terms people try to use. By showing compassion and patience when explaining our labels to people, we will help break down barriers and hopefully provide a deeper understanding of our struggles to those around us.
What are your thoughts? What labels do you wear?