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What Have I Learned Along the Way to Using Correct Terminology?

Since I was a kid, I have always wondered where I belong. The hearing world or the Deaf world. Should I identify myself with a capital or simple case as in D/deaf? The journey was a never-ending process to feel more comfortable with me.

A girl is thinking about the correct terminologies to refer to a Deaf person. Down below, a box pops the question, how to appropriately call a deaf person?
How to appropriately refer to a Deaf person?

While I was growing up, people have always tried to define me by my disability. I have come across various names directed at me, uncertain where I belonged. I spent most of my life in the hearing world. Although I spend the first few years in a Deaf school, they both have shaped me into the person I have become today.

This whole identification crisis started during my adolescent years. I pondered and mulled over this for years. I had a tough time coming to terms with my deafness. I refused to accept that I was not capable of hearing. During those hardest moments, I identified myself as hearing impaired.

At the height of my identity crisis, a teacher called me "deaf," while I could not comprehend what she meant. I still remember the exact phrase the teacher threw at me and casually chuckled. It crushed my self-esteem even further. I remember the feelings that washed over me on that day while I cackled with her and the class. On that day, I could not bring myself to tell out loud to remark that she hurt me by exclaiming I was Deaf.

Even today, I come across situations where I tell a person I identify myself as a young Deaf woman. They try to assert their choice of words by telling me to do away with disabled or Deaf just because they are unacceptable.

This is where I have some advice for you at any point in the conversation. I come and tell you that I am disabled or a young deaf woman. You do not get to assert your choice of words. Let me tell you why.

To many of you, it would seem like a harmless joke. But for people who grapple and come to terms with their disability. It is never a joke for people to get to terms with their disability. I have had people throw different names at me, but this is one of the instances I can put out.

At this point, I felt I should identify myself as soon as possible and come to terms with it. Because the next time a person throws words at me, it would not crush my self-esteem and confidence. I would not have to start from square one all over again. I began to identify myself as Hard of hearing (HOH).

Discovering your disability and identifying yourself is a painful journey. It takes years of discovery to become comfortable in an identity you choose.

It took the two words I hated, differently-abled and special needs to launch myself into years of research and discovery. Finally, I settled down calling myself, disabled and a young Deaf woman.

Calling someone disabled or deaf is not an offensive word. It is empowering. It represents my true self. If anyone comes up and tells you, I am disabled. Be chill with the conversation and move on because you never know what that person's journey would have been when processing their disability. They finally get closure when they come up and tell you I am disabled. Loud and proudly!

Here is what you can do.

Here are a few pointers to help you out when you meet a deaf person.

  • Make sure to ask the person how they would like to identify themselves.

  • Be respectful and thank them for opening up about their disability. You never know the amount of courage it takes for a disabled person to open up.

  • Do not assert your choice of words.

  • Do not give unsolicited advice.

  • Do not invalidate their experience. Believe and show respect.

  • Remember that difficulties the person may be facing may stem more from society's attitudes and barriers than from the disability itself.

It is important to note that coming to terms with our disability is not easy. It is a long and arduous process. It is critical to remember that interacting with someone who has a disability involves respecting that person for their disability. It all comes down to having a sense of disability awareness.


Last updated on December 2021

Comments (1)

Dec 30, 2022

I was born profoundly Deaf and use cochlear implants. I'll definitely share this with my family and friends before I go to a gathering.

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