Since my last blog post I have thought some more on the issue of ‘medical model’ terminology and after reading Charlie’s thought-provoking blog post and having a good Twitter discussion with him, Alison and others, I have decided that I am going to have to retract part of what I said, to quote:
“The new terminology around ‘loss’ is strictly medical model and while I have no problem with people seeing and describing their own deafness this way...”
This seemed pretty reasonable to me when I said it. It was about respecting differences of opinion and perception, and the right to self-determine. As Charlie had quite fairly questioned, ‘is it right to tell other deaf people they shouldn't call themselves something?’ However, I don’t think anybody is quite doing that; people will use whatever terms that they like, as they are entitled to do so. I think it is more about just debating which terms are better and hopefully agreeing on something that is not damaging or oppressive to Deaf people and then encouraging their use.
So what is the problem with people describing themselves as ‘hearing impaired’? That’s their choice, right? Yes, but I think there are two issues here. Firstly, it could be argued that the term is oppressive or even abusive and that it is biased, of the medical model and imposed on us from a hearing perspective. ‘Impaired’ is in the same bracket as 'loss,' ‘broken,’ damaged,’ ‘defective,’ ‘lacking,’ etc. If somebody self-harms, we wouldn’t just shrug our shoulders and say ‘well that’s his choice’ and then leave it at that. We might encourage him to seek help, etc. So is somebody psychologically self-harming by referring to himself in such terms? I used to do this sort of thing and it didn’t feel at all good for me.
Secondly, Alison referred to John Donne’s famous quote that ‘No man is an island, Entire of itself, Every man is a piece of the continent, A part of the main.’ If you give people the OK or nod to use oppressive terms to describe themselves, or you just let them get on with doing so, doesn’t that have implications for the rest of us? It may be self-perpetuating, giving other people the impression that it’s acceptable to refer to us in this way.
I am glad this debate is now underway, as I think we need to push away the old oppressive terms.
A few years ago, the Royal National Institute for Deaf people (RNID) re-branded, changing their name to Action on Hearing loss (AOHL.) I think this was a disaster for Deaf people and here I will set out why.
The old word – Deaf – is perfect in terms of diversity and inclusion. It includes people who espouse the medical model of disability – seeing Deafness as a problem and/or tragedy. But it also includes people on the opposite end of the spectrum, those who espouse the social model of disability and Deafness and who embrace Deaf community, culture, and language. It also includes everybody in between. The word is entirely neutral. This is why it is still easily my preferred term today. ‘Deaf’ is also the best term for an organisation that wishes to represent all deaf people, because it doesn’t leave anybody out while still respecting difference.
The old terms that came with ‘Deaf’ – ‘making the world a better place for Deaf and hard of hearing people’ were superior to their replacement for a number of reasons. They were about respecting and including people. Such words made it clear that Deaf people were part of society and had an equal stake in society. The new terminology around ‘loss’ is strictly medical model and while I have no problem with people seeing and describing their own deafness this way, they have no business imposing it on others. Who has the right to come along and declare or make out that my deafness is a disability, a loss, a tragedy that is in need of ‘action’ to correct it? Apart from being factually incorrect in my case – I never lost anything, I can see myself how I like and if I choose to see myself as a Deaf person who likes his Deafness, community, culture and language, who has the right to object?
How can it be good for Deaf people and Deaf children to tell them that they should not be proud of who they are, that they are defective, and that they have a ‘problem’ that requires ‘action’ in order to be ‘fixed’? How is that good for their psychological well-being? Isn’t that just a hearing person’s perspective? To me the idea of suddenly becoming hearing is probably just as horrible as the idea of suddenly becoming deaf is to a hearing person.
People often say that you should be positive and not negative. I think you need to find a balance. And isn’t my view of Deaf people here positive, while AOHL’s is negative? Yet who is supposed to be at the crease batting for Deaf people? RNID’s re-brand was a disaster for Deaf people engineered by hearing people with a negative view of Deafness. These new words in their name are for their benefit, not ours.