“To be or not to be, that is the question.”
It’s a good thing Hamlet never had any problems with his hearing as the question might have been a lot more complicated:
“To be deaf, partially hearing, hard of hearing, hearing impaired, with a hearing loss or not to be any of the above, that is the question.”
Yes, that old chestnut – how should we refer to deaf children and young people – has cropped up again. This time it’s because of a Department for Education (England) consultation on “data descriptors”. In other words, the Department want to come up with agreed terminology for when it goes about collecting data on children with special educational needs and disability. Currently, the Department is proposing to continue to use the term ‘hearing impairment’.
NDCS generally uses the term ‘deaf’ to refer to any child with any level of hearing loss unless there are very good reasons why not. As a deaf person myself, I personally hate to be referred to as hearing impaired. This is mainly because it follows a medical model of disability and also I don’t wish to go through life basically being referred to as if I were damaged goods. I am more than just my wonky ears.
The challenge for us though is that many professionals use the term ‘hearing impaired’. Rightly or wrongly, many somehow link ‘deaf’ with being a sign language user or being profoundly deaf. I remember being at a conference once and asking a teacher if they had any deaf children in their school. She said “no but I do have a child with a hearing aid.” I bit my tongue and instead patiently explained that we take deaf to have a wider meaning.
So how should NDCS respond to this consultation?
Should we insist that the Department use the term ‘deaf’? As much as I think they should, the big worry is that, if we do, lots of deaf children will end up being missed in the statistics because the teacher who doesn’t have a deaf child but does have a child with a hearing aid ends up not including that child in their records. That could lead to the number of deaf children being miscounted and possibly even support being cut over the long-term. A principled approach may not be in the best interests of deaf children.
Do we concede that ‘hearing impairment’ can be used, knowing that it’s offensive to some deaf people and potentially perpetuates a negative view of deaf children? Using ‘hearing impairment’ also makes it harder over the long-term to change people’s vocabulary.
Or is there a third way? Hearing loss? Hard of hearing? Wonky ears? Is there a term we can all unite behind?
NDCS is going to have a good think. In the meantime, it’d be great to hear people’s views – have your say in the comment box or vote in our blog poll. It’s a big hot potato and we know there are lots of strong views on it. We’ll report back in September on what we did in the end.