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Another Voice: Kudos to lawmakers for retiring the 'hearing impaired' label

By Michael Cross

Deaf Access Services applauds New York State for its recent enactment of legislation that eliminates the term “hearing impaired” from all New York State law. Instead, state law will now use the term “hard of hearing,” which is terminology preferred by Deaf Access Services and by the deaf community at large.

The deaf and hard of hearing community, and Deaf Access Services, have long advocated for positive, inclusionary language and is encouraged by the new legislation.

Our sister organization, the National Association of the Deaf, advocated strongly for the new language, explaining that the term “hearing impaired” reinforces the stigma that there is something wrong with deaf and hard of hearing people – that they are damaged or harmed. The Empire State Association of the Deaf – our New York State advocacy organization – was also heavily involved in the push for the legislation.

As Matthew S. Moore, deaf advocate and president of We the Deaf People Inc. wrote, “Terminology is important, as it reflects society’s attitude towards us, and also indicates how we want to be treated. ‘Hearing-impaired’ incorporates negative framing, labeling deaf people in terms of malfunctioning or broken auditory equipment. Deaf and hard of hearing is a simple, neutral, non-judgmental term.”

Ultimately, Deaf Access Services strives to remove the term “hearing impaired” from all popular discourse. As deaf and hard of hearing people – and advocates for the deaf community – we promote communication access, awareness and opportunities in the greater community and seek equality, empowerment and inclusion.

Many of us at DAS have been advocates for a long time. We actually remember when the term “hearing impaired” was viewed as politically correct. Initially, it was a well-meaning term but now needs to be retired. Language evolves, just as our own ideas and beliefs evolve. Replacing outdated language that may have become offensive becomes necessary as times change.

The newly adopted New York State legislation eliminates more than 25 references to "hearing impaired" or "impairment" in state law across 11 different sections of law. Through its responsiveness, New York State is setting a good example of modern government’s ability to change to reflect the times. It has become one of just three states that have made this change to properly recognize the deaf community. Ideally, other municipalities will follow New York’s lead.

Special recognition should go to the legislation’s sponsors: state Sen. Terrence Murphy of Westchester County and Assemblyman Steve Englebright of Suffolk County.

Inclusion continues to be a critical issue in the deaf and hard of hearing community. Deaf Access Services envisions a community where all people experience equality, empowerment and inclusion – leading lives full of possibilities. We will persist in our mission to promote access, awareness and opportunities, and advocate for the best interests of the deaf and hard of hearing community in Western New York.

Michael Cross is the board president at Deaf Access Services in Buffalo.

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