For three years I worked at www.DeafandHoH.com as an editor and writer (Hi Senthil!). Naturally, this entailed a lot of reading about the d/hh community– most of it from hearing writers who had no experience whatsoever with that world. Not an issue per se, but I often ended up having to correct a few assumptions.
There is a right way and a wrong way to write about people with hearing loss. The finer details vary by person– and the best way to find out is to ask– but essentially, the single most important bit to remember is this:
Focus on the person, not the hearing loss.
As a general rule, the only time a person’s hearing loss really needs to be mentioned is in the introductory paragraph, or when it’s directly pertinent—like communicating with hearing peers, or getting accommodations. And, for the most part, hearing loss doesn’t really affect anyone’s ability to do anything except hear, and in some cases communicate, if we’re talking a primarily verbal environment. Take this, for example:
“Despite his hearing loss, he is an accomplished artist.”
OK, look, I’m deaf. I draw and paint. And my first reaction is, he’s deaf, not blind. (Even then, I’m pretty sure there are fantastic blind artists out there who have figured out how to make it work.)
I see this a lot with sports, by the way. You could have this 300-lb. behemoth who can strategically weave through a mob of linebackers with ballerina-level grace and finesse, and some journalist out there would still natter on about the obstacles he faced– of course, referring to his hearing loss.
To be fair, hearing loss is not exactly a picnic, because we do live in a predominantly hearing and auditory world. We will need to find workarounds, and that’s worth mentioning. But that’s just it: they are workarounds, not this insurmountable Wall to be conquered every time we have to do anything. Hell, sometimes it’s even an advantage: I draw and paint because I am an incredibly visual person, and my deafness had a lot to do with that.
For most deaf and hard of hearing people, it is just part of learning to adapt, and many of us aren’t comfortable with being put on a pedestal for living out their daily life, or serving as a stand-in to “inspire” someone. Stella Young has an excellent TED talk on the objectification of inspiration, which is worth a watch: http://www.ted.com/talks/stella_young_i_m_not_your_inspiration_thank_you_very_much/transcript?language=en.
Incidentally, this can be a difficult line to walk, even for me. When in doubt, ask someone who’s d/hh. Preferably, ask several. A good place to start, though, is to avoid the following terms, and any like them:
So. That’s the big one to watch out for. Couple other writing no-no’s I’d include are:
Overt/excessive references to sound. Especially puns. “Sound and Fury,” “Hearing with Her Eyes,” and “World of Silence” are the ones I can think of off the top of my head. Truthfully, I tend to see these as low-hanging fruit at best, and lazy writing at worst.
…Maybe just leave them out altogether. The thing is, we’re deaf. For most of us, sound is just not a huge part of our daily lives. I mean, I don’t even notice the absence of sound most times. I don’t have the feeling that it “should” be there (except when I’m wearing my implant, then I’ll start making random tapping noises just to make sure the battery’s working). Even a lot of late-deafened adults find that they just don’t miss it all that much.
Don’t use the term hearing impaired. This is more of a gentle heads-up than anything else since it is not common knowledge. Although I don’t personally care about “hearing impaired,” a lot of people find it distasteful and even deeply offensive because to them, it implies “brokenness,” or that the person needs to be “fixed.” Unless the person you’re writing about uses that terminology or is OK with it, best to leave that term out of your journalistic vocabulary altogether. “Deaf and hard of hearing,” although admittedly a mouthful, is usually a better substitute.
This feels like a woefully short primer, but the crux of it is, we’re people. Hearing loss/deafness is just one part of our lives. Write about us as people, and you probably won’t veer too far off course. Honestly, that holds true for any group no matter the demographic.
P.S. I know I have been a very bad non-posting Croaking Dalek due to Life, as I’d feared. I’ll certainly be doing my best to return to a regular schedule with things settling down a bit now.