Again, On Ableist Language & My Hearing Impairment


As you all know, I manage 2 active blogs on social justice issues, human rights violations and a search for solutions.  I write about solutions on varying levels- from the everyday to the political.  On the everyday, there is the necessary task of owning our privileges and acknowledging them- and by extension, re-evaluating our use of language.

Let me start by talking about ableist language:

The amount of ableist/homophobic/racist/sexist/etc language I hear daily is appalling.  I argue that there is power in the way we use language- especially those of us who speak English as the first language.  Why do I say “especially?” Well, you speak the language of commerce and hegemony on many parts of the world.  You have the luxury of taking the conventions of the English language for granted without losing credibility or having your citizenship questioned.  The use of language is often an exercise of power.  Language clearly reveals our biases [conscious or not].  ”That’s crazy!” “These prices are insane!” “This movie is lame.” “She’s nuts.” “That’s dumb.” “She’s hysterical.”

All of those are ableist in some way.  The “disabled” are made feeble, and thus epitomizing an unwanted state of “lameness.”  The mentally atypical are often the butt of jokes. The hearing-impaired, deaf/mute are trivialized daily by our unconscious biases revealed through language.  [Hysterical is a particularly heinous example- derived from the Greek word for “womb” {ὑστέρα}.  Hysterical attributed personality disorders in women to their reproductive organs and their “natural tendency to lack self-control.”  It is both sexist and ableist.]

A close examination of everyday language tells us who is marginalized in our societies.

Look at Black and White: I wrote an etymological breakdown of the uses of “black” and “white” in Shakespeare’s Othello. [I cited the Oxford English Dictionary, which is considered [in academia] the authority on the evolution of the English language].  Our language acts as a sieve for our biases.  To challenge our prejudices, we have to challenge our language.

So when my father told me last night that I should be glad I am only hearing-impaired, I cringed.  For a lifetime, I have struggled with my hearing-impairment.  I may have begun my education surrounded by Deaf/deaf children in an alternative school, but I finished it in a public school.  Being surrounded by people who could hear birds chirping or even sounds in the range of human speech- who could not grasp that there are some who cannot hear what you hear.  When people tell me “oh, I can’t hear certain sounds either…” yet they have “perfect” hearing, I am slighted.  Some days, when my mom and I butt heads, she’ll accuse me of having selective hearing, when in fact, I cannot hear her.  When people are aware that something they are saying hurts the person with whom they are speaking, they often drop their tone.  This means that I cannot hear them.  So, often when I ask someone to repeat themself, it’s because of this.

I do not have selective hearing.  I was born with impaired hearing and damaged nerves in my ears.  I can’t help it.  Don’t punish me for a congenitaldefect. And no, I am NOT glad that I am “only hearing-impaired.”

I can’t tell you how angry it makes me.

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