Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Deaf is not a four-letter word

"You don't look blind!"
"You don't sound deaf."

People tell me those things on a weekly basis. I might be slow on the uptake, but what does "blind" look like? What does "deaf" sound like?

When you think of "deaf" or "blind," what are the images which pop into your mind? The man wearing sunglasses, stumbling along, white cane in hand, trying to find his way along city streets? The woman who doesn't voice, and instead uses an interpreter?
Stumbling? Not as intelligent as "normal" people? Unable to "speak?" Clueless? Dependent? Helpless? Uneducated?

This is how history, and the media defines people who are deaf or blind.

I'm not what you think I am, and because I don't fall into line with stereotypes, I am told that I don't look or sound the way someone thinks I should.

Blindness is a spectrum term. Deafness is a spectrum term as well. There are many faces of deafness and blindness, not to mention deafblindness. We are not just one type of person with many faces. We are a cross-section of society just like "normal" people. I walk confidently, and look at people when I speak to them. Unless people see my dog or my braille book or display, you would think I were sighted. I voice for myself because I'm post-lingually deafened. I don't have any kind of "speech impediment," because I'm post-lingually deafened. I'm not ignorant, nor am I any more special than the next person. Unless you see me signing, or talk to me over the phone via relay, you would never know I am deaf.

Because I don't conform to people's standards of what they think blindness, or deafness should be, some people seem to be afraid to use the terms "deaf" and "blind." This is especially true of the word "deaf."
"She's d-d-d-... d-d-d ... ... hearing challenged." This was spoken by someone who knows me quite well. Someone who interacts with me extensively every day. Why is it so hard for her, and for others to say it? DEAF! I'm deaf. If you look at my audiogram, I have a 105 decibel loss in my "good" ear, and a 135 decibel loss in the ear that is there strictly for decoration. That's pretty darned deaf. I wear a hearing aid because I have to, in order to work where I do. I don't wear it at home, or when I'm relaxing. I self-identify as deaf, and have always thought of myself this way. So why is it so hard for others to say the D-word? I think it's because I don't comply with the stereotype of deafness, whatever that is.
I am involved in the Deafblind community. I use American Sign Language, both at work and with friends. I self-identify as culturally Deafblind. If there was a "cure" for my deafness, or my blindness, I wouldn't take it because I am who I am, and I like myself this way.

I've asked people why they continue to stumble around, searching for terms to describe my hearing loss when a readily available one is at hand? A word which i, myself use? It certainly isn't in order to save my feelings, because if the word deaf bothered me, I wouldn't use it when referring to myself. The most common answer I get is this:
"I don't want people to get the wrong idea about you."
And what idea would that be? That I can't hear? Because I can't hear. That is the simple truth, right there; I can't hear. Or is it really because I don't fall into line with our society's pre-conceived notion of what "deaf" is. If other people are discomfited by my word choices, then they should get over it, because I am not changing. Since it is me I am talking about, I have the right to identify myself in the way most appropriate. And that is deaf. People are going to just have to swallow their resistance and say it; because I will keep correcting them, and I will continue calling them out on it.
I am not impaired, or challenged. I am deaf. I voice, I use ASL, I read braille. I have several methods of communication at my disposal, and I will use whichever meets my needs for that moment. I am not helpless, nor lacking in intellect. I have a work and social life, made up of friends and coworkers, deaf and hearing, blind and sighted. I am a wife, a teacher, a dog trainer, a herbalist. I love dirty limericks, ASL poetry, and long books. I am fond of dark chocolate and cold tea. And I am Deafblind.


  1. I absolutely love this post. I have nothing more to say, but had to tell you I love it.

  2. I love this post. Very well put and I thank you for saying it because people don't like saying I'm "blind" either. I am not sure whose feelings they're trying to spare-their own?-because I, as you have said, use these words for a reason.
    Again, great post.

  3. Hi Y'all,

    The world has become so obsessed with "politically correct" speak that everyone is afraid to use words to describe people that have been used for decades. It doesn't matter whether the description is about a person's skin color or physical handicaps.

    Y'all come by now,
    Hawk aka BrownDog