Adults are terrible at asking questions. They usually avoid it all together. They’ll stare and peer and inspect when they don’t think you’re looking but few will actually open up a dialogue unless it is fully necessary. I remember actually being very young, maybe 5 or so, sitting at the rodeo grounds in our very small town and having an old man poke at my hearing aids without even speaking to me. Just weird.

Kids on the other hand, have no problems with questions, and they are probably the leading source of why I describe myself in the way that I do. I’ve counselled and staffed countless summer camps as a teenager and young adult, and I’ve had many kids look up at me, and without a single regard for conventional social practice, say,

“what are those in your ears?”

followed of course by

“why do you need them?”

Earlier in my life, I often felt uncomfortable, even insulted when asked these questions by my own peers. But when answering kids much younger than me, the words come easily,

“They’re hearing aids. I wear them because I don’t hear very well without them.”

That set of words is one I’ve stuck with for a long time, and they’re how I usually answer anyone if they ask em. I should mention, that I grew up in a rural place and had absolutely minimal interaction with anyone else with hearing aids. I’d always just unconsciously assumed that all people who wear hearing aids would describe themselves the same way that I do.

However, I now know this isn’t really the case. There’s a whole vocabulary that individuals in my position may use to describe themselves.

“I have hearing loss.”

Loss? Can you lose what you’ve never had? I understand this is a valid explanation for many individuals, but i personally was born this way. Yet it seems like a lot of people with hearing aids, regardless of when it first came into their lives, use this phrase.

“I’m Deaf / deaf / partially deaf.”

Although it might be tempting to stick this way at the far left end of the spectrum we made last week, these words can actually be used to cover a whole range of hearing levels. They may apply those who have no usable auditory ability, but it can extend far right cover people who wear hearing aids and function at a near-normal level. One fairly concrete separation does exist though; the capitalised “Deaf” is used when referring to those who communicate by sign language and participate in the greater Deaf culture. In general, a lowercase “deaf” refers to those with hearing impairments, but choose not to participate in Deaf culture, and may rely on hearing aids, cochlear implants or speech reading as opposed to signing. Partially deaf seems to be the go-to, catch-all term used in the U.K. covering hard-of-hearing individuals and hearing aid users.

Without opening a whole other can of worms that deserves its own post, for now I’ll just say that I’ve never seen myself as deaf. I communicate with sound and language, to nearly the full extent of a normal-hearing person. I don’t sign, participate in deaf culture or rely on speechreading at all so I wouldn’t ever use “Deaf” for myself, out of respect who truly do fit that definition and embrace everything that goes along with it. Further, I really don’t like the terms deaf and partly deaf in that they attempt to lump a large population in with a very small specific population, and also because its a label which is rooted in disability, rather than ability.

“I’m hard-of-hearing.”

What does this even mean? Its such a strange, antiquated way of speaking that really doesn’t exist in modern English anywhere else. For some reason it still persists and from what I’ve seen, it tends to refer to those who wear may wear hearing aids, but often rely heavily on speechreading or signing for communication.

“I’m hearing impaired.”

Hi ‘Hearing Impaired,’ nice to meet you. This wording is used frequently, following the past trends towards more medical sounding terminology. However, the more recent trend is to put the individual before their abilities or disabilities. Someone once explained this concept to me by asking if I’d ever refer to a person with cancer as a cancerous person. Of course not.

“I have a hearing impairment.”

Okay, fine. This one is hard to fault at most levels. It’s accurate and sensitive and reflects the issue properly. But would anyone ever normally say…“I wear glasses because I have a visual impairment.” ? I don’t think so. Instead, people just say “I need glasses.” I think that’s really the nicest way to put it. There’s no reason to pick out and focus on a person’s impairment or disability; instead we should just accept that they require an assistive device and leave it at that. “I wear hearing aids.”


  1. Tiffany Leung · January 21, 2016

    A thought-provoking article! I love the critical thoughts you have put into each term and how words and terminology affect how we view and present ourselves. Thank you for this post! Think I will start using the term “I wear hearing aids” to explain myself.


    • Hearington · January 21, 2016

      No, thank you for reading! I really appreciate your compliments. Please follow me on FB or Twitter to stay up to date with my blog.


  2. Tiffany Leung · January 21, 2016

    A thought-provoking article! I love the critical thoughts you have put into each term and how they affect how we view and present ourselves. Thank you for this post! Think I will start using using “I wear hearing aids” to explain myself.


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