A Choice of Words

For my first post, I’d like to explain why I choose to describe myself in the way that I do.

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 6 or so, sitting at the rodeo grounds in town and having an old man poke at my hearing aids without even speaking to me.

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?”

Now these are just kids. They likely will never interview me for a job oppurtunity or write me a reference letter or audit my taxes, so it doesn’t seem like what answer I give should matter much to them. They will forget whatever I’ve told them after a few hours of Capture the Flag. However, I think the answers I give matter very much to me.

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

In a sub-120 character world, word choice is so important in conveying your intended message across. To illustrate that point in this context, let’s look at some other possible responses and their possible interpolations:

“I have hearing loss.”

loss? can you lose what you’ve never had? i can understand this in certain contexts, but i personally was born this way.

“I’m deaf / partially deaf / have some deafness etc.”

this opens a whole other can of worms that deserves its own post, but 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.

“I’m hard-of-hearing.”

what does this even mean? the dictionary literally explains this term as ‘not able to hear well.” so why use some convoluted phrase to describe what can be said more simply?

“I’m hearing impaired.”

hi Hearing Impaired, nice to meet you. But seriously, I don’t believe that anyone should be defined by their abilities. Someone once explained this concept to me by asking if I’d ever refer to a person with cancer as a cancerous person.

“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 I contend that one simple argument can kill this; would anyone ever normally say…

“I wear glasses because I have a visual impairment.” ?

I don’t really think so. I’m not sure this argument would have stood 10 years ago, but today, when hearing aids are capable of so much, I think its very valid. People who wear glasses don’t see themselves deficient in any way. The plastic and metal they wear makes up for that deficiency to the point of normalcy. Many would argue that the limitations are greater for hearing aids — speech in noise, battery life, resistance to the elements, directionality, muscial abilities illustrate just a handful. But similar limits do exist for glasses — rain, dirt, sweat can all obscure the lens, the lenses will never cover the entire face, bifocals always leave spots where certain points of focus cannot be achieved. However, people get over those issues because in agreeable conditions, glasses allow people to see at ‘normal’ levels. I believe that for most intents and purposes, hearing aids are capable of also allowing people to hear at near-normal levels.

I’ve never seen myself as having any sort of disability greater than that of having to wear corrective lenses, so that’s why I refuse to refer to my limitations in any different way.

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

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