What is deaf identity?
There is much contention in society around deafness and deaf identity. Conflicting opinions around what level of hearing loss constitutes ‘deaf’, can cause confusion and upset. Too often we hear ‘You can speak, so you’re not really deaf’, or ‘You don’t sign, so you’re not really deaf’. How do we then build confidence in our own hearing loss when we are bombarded by the opinions of others? As Luke Christian, founder of DEAF IDENTITY states, ‘deafness is a spectrum, there’s no right or wrong way of being deaf’ (Limping Chicken, 2019). So how do we begin to build a view of our own deaf identities in this ever-changing world?
How do you define deaf?
There are, and have been over the years, lots of terms used to describe people with hearing loss: deaf, Deaf, hard of hearing, hearing impaired. And within these categories there are descriptors, including: bilateral, unilateral, conductive, sensorineural, mixed, progressive, sudden, congenital, acquired. However, permeating through these are the medical degrees of hearing loss: mild, moderate, severe, profound.
From my perspective, while my medical understanding of my hearing loss has always been good – bilateral, progressive, acquired – I have fought with myself for years over the how to describe myself to others; to hearing people. Using the word deaf always felt wrong because I could hear some things. I had a degree of hearing which afforded me some connection to and a place in the hearing world. However, using the term hard of hearing always (and especially in recent years) felt like not enough, because I struggled and continue to struggle so much in hearing company.
How do you define identity?
The Collins English dictionary definition of identity states: ‘Your identity is who you are.’ And ‘The identity of a person or place is the characteristics they have that distinguish them from others.’ Identity has nothing to do with anyone else; it has everything to do with the individual recognising that part of themselves, acknowledging it, cultivating it and wearing it with pride. A deaf identity, particularly, is about acknowledging the hearing loss, learning new ways to interact (and possibly some new skills) and being proud of what makes you different to hearing people, but also different from other deaf people. Your hearing loss experience makes your identity unique – take pride in it.
What makes a deaf identity?
From combining these definitions of deafness and identity, we can build a definition of deaf identity which is inclusive of all people who fall under the enormous hearing loss umbrella. Deaf identity is what you make of it. The language you use around your hearing loss, the manner or manners in which you communicate and the time you spend in the hearing and deaf communities creates your own deaf identity. That is not to say any one identity is any better than any other, but that the deaf identity of every person with hearing loss is unique to them. We all define our own deaf identity and that should be celebrated.
How do we build our deaf identities?
- By seeing deafness, or hearing loss, as part of who you are, rather than something you ‘suffer from’.
- By claiming your needs for access to the hearing world as a right, not as something you have to apologise for.
- By being proud of your deafness and not comparing your hearing loss, your journey or your place in the deaf community – whatever you decide that is – with other people.
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