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Our choice of words makes a difference

I read Dennis Fujimoto’s story with great interest, as I am an active part of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community. I appreciate that the East Kaua‘i Lions is helping the Department of Education staff and Kaua‘i’s students facilitate the clear mask concept.

It is a travesty that the Department of Education did not provide these clear masks for the staff that work with our Deaf and Hard of Hearing community. Kudos to Ms. Pakala-Zirzow for pursuing a grant to secure these very important tools for communicating.

I believe it is important to understand the culture about which you report; there are important aspects of our culture that were incorrectly stated.

The headline reads: “Hearing-impaired students get special mask.” Just as other negative connotation vocabulary words such as “deaf and dumb” have gone away, the term, “Hearing Impaired,” is no longer used in our culture and community.

*Hearing-impaired – This term is no longer accepted by most in the community but was at one time preferred, largely because it was viewed as politically correct. To declare oneself or another person as deaf or blind, for example, was considered somewhat bold, rude, or impolite. At that time, it was thought better to use the word, “Impaired” along with “visually,” “hearing,” “mobility,” and so on. “Hearing-impaired” was a well-meaning term that is not accepted or used by many deaf and hard of hearing people. For many people, the words “deaf” and “hard of hearing” are not negative. Instead, the term “hearing-impaired” is viewed as negative. The term focuses on what people can’t do. It establishes the standard as “hearing” and anything different as “impaired,” or substandard, hindered, or damaged. It implies that something is not as it should be and ought to be fixed, if possible.

To be fair, this is probably not what people intended to convey by the term “hearing impaired.” Every individual is unique, but there is one thing we all have in common: we all want to be treated with respect. To the best of our own unique abilities, we have families, friends, communities, and lives that are just as fulfilling as anyone else. We may be different, but we are not less.

What’s in a name? Plenty! Words and labels can have a profound effect on people, especially young children. Show your respect for people by refusing to use outdated or offensive terms. When in doubt, ask the individual how they identify themselves.

I trust, in the future, “Deaf or Hard of Hearing” will be used in The Garden Island Newspaper instead of the negative terminology and connotation of “Hearing impaired.”

Mahalo for your attention to this matter.


Larry Littleton, CDI is a Hawai‘i State Judiciary Certified Court Interpreter and a resident of Lihu‘e
Source: The Garden Island

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