In this episode of the Hear Me Out! [CC] Podcast, I wanted to answer the question that (mostly) hearing people have asked me before; is it rude to call someone deaf?
Maybe it’s because of political correctness or perhaps they just want to learn. Either way, I thought of answering that question in this episode so that nobody can make their own assumptions, which is probably the worst thing to do regardless of the scenario.
In this podcast (with transcript included below), I share my own thoughts about this topic and also go through situations of when it could be an insult.
You can listen to the podcast below or scroll down to read the transcript:
- What’s the Difference between capital ‘D’ Deaf and small ‘d’ deaf?
- What’s the Difference between deaf and Hard of Hearing?
This is the Hear Me Out! [CC] podcast, a place to hear stories from the deaf and hard of hearing people, and from your host, Ahmed Khalifa.
Is it rude to call someone deaf?
If you want the short answer it’s no. But of course, it’s not always that straightforward.
If you want the slightly longer version, sharing the story behind it and also understand when is it rude and understand why it’s a bit of yes and no, then I suggest you keep listening.
Is ‘deaf’ politically correct?
One thing to learn about the Deaf community and in this case, I’m talking about deaf with a capital ‘D’, they are extremely proud of being Deaf.
It’s actually quite empowering and it’s known to be empowering for them to be called Deaf and that’s because it’s part of their identity and who they are. Sign language is their main language and they’re proud of that.
Most likely they are born deaf and it’s part of their lifestyle. That is who they are.
They are very proud of it. They are very proud to be called Deaf and they actually label themselves like that and they show off about that as well.
Imagine being patriotic about your country and say that you are proud to be from this particular country and of the specific nationality.
It’s the same thing with Deaf; it’s their identity and they are protective about that and the history and culture and etc.
And like your nationality, it’s written with a capital first letter. So I’m proud to be ‘E’nglish, with a capital ‘E’, ‘A’merican capital ‘A’, ‘S’panish capital ‘S’ and so on.
For those who are part of the deaf community, it’s known to be Deaf with a capital ‘D’. Again, it just like being patriotic about your own identity and nationality.
And by the way, if you learn the difference between small ‘d’ and capital ‘D’ Deaf, it will help make things a bit more clearer.
What’s the difference Between with deaf and Deaf?
Having a captial and small ‘d/D’ makes a difference to the definition.
So calling someone d/Deaf in this context is totally fine. It doesn’t have any negative connotations around it and it is openly used by Deaf people themselves.
The case of using other terminologies
There are people out there who maybe don’t want to be called deaf because they see themselves as maybe hard of hearing or deafened, and it’s a bit more complex in that sense, and again, you can learn about the difference between deaf and hard of hearing.
It’s a bit of both 1) yes, it can be different. 2) No, it’s not different. 🤷🏽♂️
But some people have their own reasons of why they are not called deaf.
It could be because they see it as they’re not profoundly deaf. It’s just a minor hearing loss, as they call it.
And for other people it’s because they don’t see themselves a part of the Deaf community, so they think it’s better to not call themselves Deaf as well.
It can get a little bit complex in that way as well. But in general, calling someone deaf is absolutely acceptable. It’s totally fine.
Now the problem is when hearing people tend to choose a label and they choose it for their own reason.
For example, the word “hearing impaired”, it’s considered to be politically correct by many hearing people when in fact, it was never really created culturally by Deaf people, and nor is it accepted by many people at all.
I mean there may be a few people – I’m not not going to say it’s definitely 100% not preferred. There might be a minority that don’t mind being called “hearing impaired”. But the majority chooses not to.
Just now before I even started the recording this podcast, I was watching a video (which you can see below) and just happen to be a stand-up comedian talking about interacting with deaf students and the way that stand-up comedian was saying is that he is hearing and he was a teacher and it just happened to have a story of a deaf person in there.
That comedian kept using the word “hearing impaired” multiple times. And that’s on mainstream media as well. So of course it becomes normal. Of course people use that when it’s said everywhere.
But it tend to be said by hearing people and created by hearing people. And because of that, it becomes normal to see it everywhere.
Even for myself, I remember when I was filling in an online job application form and you do the usual information of your personal details and your experience and your education.
And then there is a section there about any kind of disability or accessibility needs that you require. Okay that’s fine, I’ll put that in there.
But the checkbox that I wanted to fill in, it says “hearing impaired” – I didn’t like that. And I’ve talked about it in other blog posts about why I don’t like being called “hearing impaired” because that implies there’s something wrong with me.
Anyway, I didn’t pick that, I couldn’t find any other option and I didn’t feel like it best describes who I am. And again I’m guessing it’s because it’s created by hearing people.
So there was another option is called “Other” or “None” and I sometime pick that. That obviously causes more problems in the long run because they just assume that that’s needs attention or doesn’t need any adjustment at all.
So it didn’t really sit well with me, ticking that box that says “hearing impaired” as it implies that there’s something wrong with you and to be honest, nobody wants to be called that. Nobody wants to be labeled like that.
You find me one person who is comfortable at been told that there is something wrong with you and it’s not right…something like that.
When is it not OK to be called deaf?
It is a good thing to say deaf. But also it does depend on how you say they are deaf and the context around it as well. Because if you are using it as an insult, that’s different than saying [with a negative tone] “oh, you’re deaf”…”Oh, she’s deaf”.
There’s a big difference between saying to someone “you’re deaf”, that is your identity and saying it with a bit of a slur around it.
It’s just like saying, “you’re a woman” or “you’re black” or “you’re an immigrant”. If you say it in the right way, it’s fine. But if you say it with some kind of negative context around it, it’s different.
Imagine if you are in an office where people are working together, they’re discussing a project and they’re talking about what to do about this one project, who to give it to and should we give it to this person and someone says “no because she’s a woman”, that’s different. You said no because she’s a woman” that’s insulting.
But it’s different to say in for example, when you want to say who this person called Alex or Robin, a unisex name, someone thought it’s a man, but someone else “no, she’s a woman”. That’s different. You just want to clarify the person, the identity. That’s not an insult.
It’s kind of similar in a way when you talk about deaf people. If you say in a in a way that, “oh, you can’t do the job because you are d/Deaf” or “you are not allowed here because you are d/Deaf”, it’s different than saying you are deaf or she’s deaf or he’s deaf or whatever. It’s completely different.
And also I can definitely guarantee you that it is 100% not OK to use the old-fashioned terminology of “deaf and dumb”, as that is considered to be an insult. And I can guarantee you that no deaf people would accept that.
It’s got a bit of a history around it, I don’t want to get into it, but if you think about it, this again puts down deaf people and gives hearing people a privilege, as only they are allowed to speak yet deaf people don’t speak because it’s not oral.
But the thing is, communicating via sign language is a form of speaking for Deaf people (as mentioned by Prof. Donald Grushkin in another episode about Deafhood).
So saying “deaf and dumb”, it’s like saying that you are above them in a way. And obviously, saying “they are dumb” – it’s not a nice thing to say to anyone. Doesn’t matter who you are – “dumb is not nice to say.
Never assume. Always ask
So I know there’s a bit of a political correctness in this podcast, and we kind of live in a world where it’s becoming more aware about political correctness.
And some people may find it annoying, but here’s the secret. The best way to do things the right way is to do things the right way. Just be correct about it.
And you can do that by learning from other people, but learning from the right people as well, rather than assuming for yourself, and rather than deciding for yourself as well.
So for example, if you want to know what is the best way to describe someone, then maybe you need to ask that person directly or somewhere in a community or someone who is similar to that person – ask because that’s the best way for you to be correct.
So for example, if you want to talk about anything related to Deaf identity, well, it won’t be a good idea to talk to a hearing person who has never been in that community, has never really talked to anyone about it, never really integrated with them in the community.
That person is not the right person to ask. There is no point doing that.
You just have to ask the right person because that’s the thing, if the the worst comes to the worst and you just don’t know what to say, ask that person, never assumed.
And I’ve said it before – you don’t get to choose or decide the label, they do.
And that applies to any category, any group of people – they get to choose not you. And I think this is why some people do get a bit riled up in the Deaf community about hearing people decide how they should do things, how they best do things.
And that’s because they don’t know better. They assume they know, but they don’t know better.
Maybe there are certain people who are knowledgeable in a topic, but unless you live that lifestyle, you will never know what that person feels like.
And I’ve said it before about how going to an audiologist is fine, yes, I go and I get my hearing checked and I get my hearing aids and whatever, that’s totally fine.
But unless that person is deaf or hard of hearing or whatever they call themselves, then they will never truly understand what I’m feeling like. And they can’t just always assume they know best.
Being understanding is totally fine. Being a good listener and understand the situation, that’s even better and I’ve had that.
But I’ve had other situation where the audiologist is pretty rubbish. Pretty pathetic actually because just assumed that “you know what? If you do this, you’ll be fine…”, but it’s not that simple.
So that’s why you should always consider asking that person. Never assume, never think that you know the right answer because chances are you will not know the right answer.
Would you want to be saying the wrong thing to that person? Especially if you want to put a good first impression, build a good relationship with that person. You want to do it the right way and what’s wrong with that?
At the end of the day, what is wrong with doing things the right way and just having a normal relationship, like anyone want to have with that person?
And the only way to do that is to just be correct. So if you’re going to say, “oh, you’re deaf and dumb”, well then that kind of puts you in a very bad foot, you know, very bad beginning of the relationship.
So ask! You can even ask me if you want privately or you can ask other people if you like, but at the same time, do some research, read, listen, learn about different people – that’s a good start as well to get you more knowledgeable about the topic. Just make sure you learn from the right people as well.
I hope that makes sense and I hope you’ve learned a lot from it. Let me know what you think and let me know if you have anything to add to this podcast.
You can leave a comment in the transcript within (this) shownotes of this episode.
Just check out the links on this page and let me know what you think because I’m curious to learn from more people, especially those who consider themselves to be part of that Deaf community because I wouldn’t say that I am.
It’s not really a place for me because I’m not fluent in sign language, it’s not my first language either and it’s not something that is right for me to see that I am part of the Deaf community. I integrate with them, I communicate, I get to know people, but I wouldn’t say that I am part of their community.
However, I like to think that I know a bit about it and I’ve learned from them directly and even you can see from other podcast episode where I interview people in Deaf Community – that’s how you learn and that’s why I’m doing it because not only I want to learn from them, but I want to share that knowledge with everyone as well.
So let me know what you think. Leave a comment as well and also I’d really appreciate it if you could leave a review on iTunes if you enjoyed this episode.
Let me know what you think in your view in iTunes as well. I’d really, really appreciate it.
In the meantime, I hope I will get to speak to you again soon.
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