Social media is great. It connects people like nothing else and gives a voice to those who often aren’t heard. Some companies, including one of the largest hearing aid manufacturers, do an extraordinary job of incorporating those two things into their marketing.
Look at Phonak’s Instagram page ( https://www.instagram.com/phonak/ ) and you’ll see people of all ages sharing pictures of them proudly wearing their HAs, showing off their bright products and innovative devices. Phonak uses an incredibly modest number of actual advertising pictures in their feed, a refreshing take on a market which relies on the most generic stock photo clichés to sell their products.
While I think its wonderful that this company has created such a great culture of acceptance and pride in wearing HAs, there’s one thing that’s always bugged me, that simple hashtag, #DeafKidsRock.
Plug that into Instagram’s search and you’ll get hundreds of pictures, mostly posted by proud moms, and shared by companies like Phonak. Some of these posts show kids using ASL or otherwise participating in the Deaf community, but many are of children wearing hearing aids, using FM systems and otherwise participating near-optimally in the hearing world. Should the word “deaf,” capitalized or not, be applied here?
I’ve touched on my opinions regarding this topic before. In a world where personal labels are already complicated enough, I don’t feel that there is any need to further complicate things. I don’t use the word “Deaf” because I don’t rely on sign language or participate in Deaf culture, and I don’t use “deaf” because I don’t care for the way it describes a person in terms of his or her disability. Instead I prefer to stay positive and say “I wear hearing aids” just as one might say “I wear glasses” or “I use a wheelchair” (my full post on this topic is right here: https://wordpress.com/post/hearington.wordpress.com/7 ) To see the tag #deafkidsrock used by a notable company like Phonak disappoints me. They’ve done such a great job at making individuals proud of their HAs, but then they backtrack by lumping the entire population of users – verbal and signing – together.
For a young person going onto social media and seeing others who wear the same products as him or her, and seeing a label they may not see themselves as used as a norm, creates unnecessary stress and confusion during an already difficult time in their lives. Here’s a different perspective; I’ve said for a while now that one of the best things you could show a parent of a newly-diagnosed hearing impaired child is the Phonak instagram feed. Its full of so many happy, smiling, normally developing kids proud of their HAs. But imagine that same parent seeing that hashtag. It seems like nothing, but that hashtag represents a collective group – of Instagram users or large companies – applying a label to their child. A label which that child alone should be free to embrace or disregard.
I know this may seem silly, but words are powerful. Not everyone will agree with me, and I don’t in any way mean to offend those who don’t but when I was growing up and people called me “deaf,” it hurt. I felt like I was being viewed in terms of my impairment rather than who I was as a person. That’s why I’ve always pushed for more positive language.
I finally have to say that I do not mean to pick on Phonak with this post. As I’ve said, their social media team is outstanding and does a great job of creating a space where HA users and their parents can share pictures of their use of and pride in wearing their devices. I don’t believe that they are the source of the hashtag in question, just that they are one of the loudest voices sharing it.
As always, let me know if you agree or disagree below.
(On a somewhat related note that follows up on my last post, Phonak often uses the phrase “hearing tech” to collectively describe HAs, CIs, CROS and FM systems. I really like this phrase as a more modest change from “hearing aids.”)