To be deaf or not to be deaf

By Sofie Heilmann

When you talk with someone, who doesn’t know about the deaf society and tell them that you’re deaf. How do you want them to react on this? When you are hard of hearing but call yourself deaf, is that correct? Is “deaf” a condition or an identity?

DEAF is a concept that is complicated. The word is understood differently depending on the society or community you belong to.

Are you from the Deaf Community, you will know DEAF as an identity. Are you from the mainstream society, you will understand it as a condition, where you simply just can’t hear.

Are you from the medical world, you will perceive DEAF as a disease that needs to be tended to and treated. Deafness.
There are probably a lot more “interpretations” of the meaning of the word DEAF.

For people who are calling themselves deaf, DEAF is a word for an identity. Hearing people does not think that their identity is HEARING, but deaf people perceive hearing people as individuals who identify themselves as HEARING. Deaf people is a minority in Denmark, and that’s what makes them identify themselves with the term DEAF. When a deaf person tells another deaf person that they are deaf, they will automatically understand it as that it’s a statement of their identity. There is not much doubt here.

Among hearing people, they would very much like to know what your condition is. Are you hard of hearing or just a bit hearing impaired or using Cochlear implant or just profoundly deaf? Hearing people use these terms as a means of estimating how much you can hear and to evaluate how to communicate with you. But this is a problem if a person who identify themselves as deaf and tell the hearing person that they are deaf then are capable of hearing and speaking well. This usually raises lots of questions, especially those on why you didn’t say that you are just hard of hearing.

Situations like these, the deaf person could start a long speech on the identity related to DEAF and why they are using that term instead of Hard of Hearing and how things work in the deaf community.

But the deaf person could also go the easy way and tell the hearing person in a nice way that he/she is deaf but able to hear and speak a bit. Then it conversation on this topic should end there, and the hearing person can think about this a bit for themselves. Because why do deaf people need to define themselves with terms as hard of hearing, Cochlear Implant user or Deaf? The question on how much we can hear should not be relevant. The question on who this person is regardless how much they can or cannot hear should be pertinent in a meeting between a hearing person and a deaf person.

Deaf or not. Hard of Hearing or not. CI user or not. There is much more to a person behind the disability.