Saturday, 28 September 2013

Some more thoughts on 'medical model' terminology used to refer to Deaf people.


Since my last blog post I have thought some more on the issue of ‘medical model’ terminology and after reading Charlie’s thought-provoking blog post and having a good Twitter discussion with him, Alison and others, I have decided that I am going to have to retract part of what I said, to quote:

“The new terminology around ‘loss’ is strictly medical model and while I have no problem with people seeing and describing their own deafness this way...”

This seemed pretty reasonable to me when I said it. It was about respecting differences of opinion and perception, and the right to self-determine. As Charlie had quite fairly questioned, ‘is it right to tell other deaf people they shouldn't call themselves something?’ However, I don’t think anybody is quite doing that; people will use whatever terms that they like, as they are entitled to do so. I think it is more about just debating which terms are better and hopefully agreeing on something that is not damaging or oppressive to Deaf people and then encouraging its use.

So what is the problem with people describing themselves as ‘hearing impaired’? That’s their choice, right? Yes, but I think there are two issues here. Firstly, it could be argued that the term is oppressive or even abusive and that it is biased, of the medical model and imposed on us from a hearing perspective. ‘Impaired’ is in the same bracket as 'loss,' ‘broken,’ damaged,’ ‘defective,’ ‘lacking,’ etc. If somebody self-harms, we wouldn’t just shrug our shoulders and say ‘well that’s his choice’ and then leave it at that. We might encourage him to seek help, etc. So is somebody psychologically self-harming by referring to himself in such terms? I used to do this sort of thing and it didn’t feel at all good for me.

Secondly, Alison referred to John Donne’s famous quote that ‘No man is an island, Entire of itself, Every man is a piece of the continent, A part of the main.’ If you give people the OK or nod to use oppressive terms to describe themselves, or you just let them get on with doing so, doesn’t that have implications for the rest of us? It may be self-perpetuating, giving other people the impression that it’s acceptable to refer to us in this way.

I am glad this debate is now underway, as I think we need to push away the old oppressive terms.

4 comments:

MM said...

I think it remains to be seen if changing a term is positive or negative approach, you can just create more issues by so doing, in a world where everyone wants equality as a norm,there is no room for any label. Social modeling just drew lines in the sand between the HI and the deaf.

We need to take note of what happened when they used terms like 'Deaf', and 'Deafhood' is spawned a generation of paranoid people living in their own vacuum. Far from emancipating deaf people, it divided them.

Tim said...

I agree it's important to learn the lessons of the past. I think the problem there was the attitude behind the words, the 'I am better than you' attitude. No wonder that caused division!

MM said...

Maybe address the reality sign using deaf refuse to offer captioned access to other people as some sop to culture, whilst advocating campaigns to demand hearing do what they won't, confused ? How does denying US access further THEIRS ? It may well just polarise people against, and with a valid reason. Much is coming from mainstream to help the deaf, very little is actually coming back from them. Its a one-way street.

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