Deafness Isn’t Binary

When people think of the term ‘deaf’ I can guarantee you most will think of someone living in a world of total silence, only able to communicate by sign language.

I mean, it’s not a completely invalid assumption, but the idea that you either have all your hearing, or none of it, is wrong.

It is widely accepted that when it comes to visual impairment there is a spectrum. I know lots of people who wear glasses, myself included, and not everyone has the same prescription. Some people’s eyesight is worse than others, and some may only need to wear glasses in certain situations – and that is the same for deafness.

It also happens that I am living proof of that. I have severe to profound hearing loss, and I wear hearing aids in both ears. Without them I can still hear a bit, but certainly not enough to cope with the million and one things going on in my life.

I guess the technical terms to describe my situation are, hard of hearing or hearing impaired (although the latter does irk me a little bit, I’ll explain why later), but sometimes, because it is a more common term, I would refer to myself as deaf.

The response I usually get from it is quite frustrating, if I’m honest. They generally run along the lines of, ‘but you’re not really deaf – you can still hear!’ Well, yes I can, thanks for pointing that out. But that doesn’t mean that I’m not deaf, so to speak.

In many ways I can’t blame people for thinking this. After all, it’s all about awareness, and I know that deafness isn’t as obvious as visual impairment. Most people don’t even realise I wear hearing aids until I tell them or tie my hair up, whereas you know someone is visually impaired when they wear glasses.

Unless, of course, they’re fake glasses for ‘fashion’ – but just know that I am side-eying anyone who decides this is cool. One of my pet peeves is people wearing glasses when they don’t need them. Honestly.

Anyway, I think at the root of it, the problem lies within the idea of needing a label.  You have to be this or that so people know where you fit in society. It applies to all walks of life, and I’m sure everyone has struggled with labels and stereotyping at some point in their lives.

But let me get back to the point. If I’m not deaf because I can still hear, but I’m not normal because I still need hearing aids… then that begs the question – what am I? I personally don’t like the term ‘hearing impaired’ as it implies that I am a faulty machine that was supposed to be perfect. If I really had to describe myself by my hearing loss, I would call myself ‘hard of hearing’, but it’s not a term that many people are familiar with.

So, I’ll just call myself deaf, hard of hearing… whatever it is, you get the point. Being deaf does not equal total silence – it can mean an entire spectrum of hearing loss. And anyway, who’s to decide what I am besides me?

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