Hearing loss service agencies ignore hard of hearing, late deafened and oral deaf

A Response to Alice Hagemeyer’s Open Letter by Nancy Kingsley

Dear Alice,

Thank you for sharing your views regarding the job announcement for GLAD (sic) posted by Robyn Tenensap, secretary of the Self Help for Hard of Hearing People (SHHH), California Board. I would like to comment on some of the points you made.

You wrote that you were not pleased that Ms. Tenensap’s letter was written for hard of hearing people only and that it stated that they now have a chance to have a major say in how the agency will help them. Although you acknowledged that “I also understand from the tone of the letter that Ms. Tenensap and probably others of the SHHH chapter in California were not pleased with the services GLAD had been providing to the people with mild to moderate hearing losses,” you indicated that you didn’t think she should have specifically sought hard of hearing people for these positions.

I don’t know the situation in California, but in general, there are few services that are geared toward meeting the needs of hard of hearing or late-deafened people. Most of the job ads I see for programs serving “deaf and hard of hearing people” require only fluency in American Sign Language and knowledge of Deaf culture, although the vast majority of hard of hearing people don’t sign or consider themselves culturally Deaf . I don’t normally see ads asking for familiarity with different assistive listening devices or with CART (realtime captioning) and CAN (computer-assisted notetaking), nor do I see ads asking for knowledge of the adjustment problems of people who are losing their hearing. It appears that there is an assumption that anyone who knows ASL and Deaf culture will also be familiar with the very different communication and coping needs of hard of hearing and late-deafened people. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

I frequently see notices for programs that are “interpreted for the Deaf and hard of hearing,” although only a small number of hard of hearing people understand sign language. A number of hard of hearing people have been trying, with limited success, to educate the public about the need to provide assistive listening systems and CART as well as interpreting, but this effort has been hampered by the constant references to “interpreting for deaf and hard of hearing people.”

You also write that you discovered that no agency that used the term “Deaf and Hard of Hearing” in the name of its organization was able to give you a clear definition of the distinction between “deaf” and “hard of hearing.” On an audiological basis, “deaf” means “unable to understand speech through the ear, even with the help of assistive devices,” while hard of hearing means “able to understand speech through the ear with the help of assistive devices.” On a cultural basis, “Deaf” (with a capital “D”) refers to people who generally became deaf before acquiring spoken language, whose primary means of communication is (in this country) American Sign Language, and who form a separate community with shared values. (Late-deafened people became deaf after acquiring spoken language, were raised in the hearing community, and may learn some sign language but usually don’t develop fluency.) While there are some exceptions to this classification, I believe that for the most part it is reasonably serviceable.

You mentioned that two well-known national organizations suggested to you that libraries use “people with hearing loss” for both deaf and hard of hearing people, but that your dictionary defines “Deaf” as “hearing being deprived partially or wholly,” and that you favor this definition as covering the whole spectrum of hearing status situations.

It is true that dictionaries may indicate that “deaf” covers all degrees of hearing loss. However, if you asked the 20,000,00+ hard of hearing people whether they consider themselves “deaf,” you would find that very few do. When they see a phrase such as your “Open Letter to the Deaf Community,” they are likely to assume that you are writing solely to those who are culturally Deaf. Since the purpose of language is to communicate, I think it is better to use terminology that is well understood. If, in fact, you wrote your letter for the entire spectrum of “people with hearing loss,” the latter phrase says this more clearly. (Another problem with using the word “deaf” to cover all degrees of hearing loss is that it blurs the very real communication and cultural differences between the different groups.)

In the conclusion of your letter, you write, “We do not want to confuse the public by splintering into small groups fighting with each other. Nor do we want to discriminate against each other. We need to treat each other with fairness and as we would like hearing people to treat us. We want them to be fair and nondiscriminatory and we need to be sure we do the same.” I certainly agree with these sentiments, and in order for this to be possible, everyone’s needs must be met. What can we do to ensure that the communication-access and social-service needs of hard of hearing (and late-deafened) people receive the recognition and attention that have so far been largely missing?

Thanks to USA-L News for this story.

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