Ask the Chicken: I don’t want to offend people who are more deaf than me. So what term should I use to describe myself?

Posted on January 6, 2014

In an uncertain world, there’s one person you can turn to for dependable advice: the limping chicken. Offering sensible tips for all kinds of common deaf-related problems. Here’s the latest instalment of our ‘agony chicken’ column…

Our reader, A, writes:

If you’re not completely deaf, what is the term you should use?

Personally, I just say I’m ‘deaf’ to those I’m likely never going to see again, but with close friends and family I explain the whole story.

I just don’t want to offend those who are more deaf than me; I have a moderate – severe loss and wear hearing aids and a radio aid at my school.

I’ve been known as being deaf since the age of 7, although I’ve been deaf since birth (we think) – I lipread before that,  and still do today, however I don’t sign (although I would like to learn in the future).

Can I say I am ‘deaf,’ or should I explain the whole story in every required context? As I’m sure you guys know, the story is never short or simple.

The Chicken replies:


Hi A, thanks for your friendly email, which helped me wake up from my post-Christmas hangover (this chicken partied a little too hard, and ate a bit too much chicken feed in its coop).

Well, this topic is one that causes much debate.

The short answer is this: the term you use to describe yourself should be the one you’re most comfortable with.

That said, there are some terms that can cause offence to people in the Deaf community.

Saying you’re ‘deaf and dumb’ wouldn’t be desirable at all, obviously, but many people don’t realise that the term ‘hearing impaired’ is now widely seen as being offensive by many (but not all) deaf people, because of its negative connotations (read Mark Levin’s article for more on this).

The best approach, in my view, is to continue to vary the terms you use, depending on who you’re talking to, and how people respond to those terms, while also finding ways of keeping things short and simple.

It’s true that calling yourself ‘deaf’ when you’re not profoundly deaf (nor a sign language user) can cause eyebrows to be raised in the Deaf community, but often this term works well with non-deaf people, so if you’re happy to, then use it.

But, if you want to indicate more precisely that you use some of your hearing, then the solution could be to describe yourself as being ‘partially deaf’ or even ‘partially hearing.’ (You could also go for ‘hard of hearing,’ which isn’t seen as negatively as ‘hearing impaired’)

The key, in this chicken’s view at least, is to use terms that people can understand quickly, in order to be able to move on with the conversation.

My own preference, having exactly the same level of deafness as you, is to use ‘partially deaf,’ or even the more casual ‘I’m a bit deaf,’ for more relaxed social situations.

Since communication is the key, it may also be worth tailoring your description in order to help people realise how they can help you understand them.

For example, you may wish to say: “I’m partially deaf and I lipread, so would it be ok for you to look at me when you’re talking to me?”

There are no easy answers to your question, but I hope this helps. Many of us Deafies spend a lifetime finding out what works (and what we say often changes as time passes) so don’t be afraid of trying different terms out to see what works for you.

Good luck!

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