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Do I Look IMPAIRED To You?

December 10, 2020

Who are “the others”?

Our society is not particular good at recognizing those who are different. We give them labels. For example, Barack Obama wasn’t known as the 44th president. Instead he was the first “black” president. Kamala Harris isn’t the Vice President elect, she’s the first “female” Vice President elect. She also happens to be the first black Vice President elect, and the first East Indian Vice President elect.

Hattie McDaniel, Sydney Poitier, Halle Berry, Louis Gossett Jr. All brilliant actors. Each of them was the first “black” something.

Hattie McDaniel, 1939 won best supporting actress for her role as Mammy in Gone With The wind.

Sydney Poitier, 1963 won best actor for his role as Homer Smith in Lilies of the Field.

Louis Gossett Jr, 1982 won best supporting actor for his role as Gunnery Sergeant Emil Foley in An Officer And A Gentleman.

Halle Berry, 2001 won best actress for her role as Leticia Musgrove in Monster’s Ball.

Jackie Robinson in 1947 on April 15 became the first black player in Major League Baseball.

I’ve listed people who were singled out based on race, but we do the same thing with other characteristics. We point out the different. When a deaf actor has a role in a movie or a television series. Hellen Keller was noteworthy for her blindness and deafness. She was obviously a brilliant women. But, had she been sighted and hearing, we would probably have never known her name.

Beethovan would have been remembered as a brilliant composer regardless of his physical ailments. But, when you consider he wrote some of his most memorable music while he was deaf, we make a note.

Freddy Mercury, the lead singer for the classic rock group Queen. He had an amazing voice. He was a brilliant song writer. He also was one of the first public figures to die from AIDS.

Society has become better at recognizing and supporting “the others.” It’s not unusual to hear about gay, or trans, or handicapped individuals.

Elliot Page just announced that he is a transgendered man. Will it affect his ability to continue as a working actor in hollywood? Probably not. Hopefully not.

As society attempted to be more inclusive, we changed our language. We started to use more inclusive language. We now refer to people who are learning impaired instead of some of the other less inclusive terms we used in the past.

You might think that hearing impaired would fall into that category. That would be preferrable to deaf, right?

Think about it this way. “Impaired” implies somehow deficient. Someone who is not normal. That describes people who cannot hear, right? The literally “lack” the ability to hear.

But, if you think that, you are literally approaching the discussion from a position of privilege. You have defined “normal” and anyone who doesn’t match that definition is not normal. They are impaired.

But, deaf people don’t see it that way. I’ve known hundreds of deaf people in my life. Some were very good friends. Some were in professional positions. Some were athletes. But, most of them weren’t necessarily interested in being “fixed.”

Want to be super offensive? Ask a gay person if they wish they were “normal.” OF COURSE they are normal, because we have accepted that hetrosexuality is not how we define normal. Just as we no longer define “white” as normal. And to many of my friends, “deaf” is normal.

The man who taught me sign language when I was a young 15 year old man, was an administrator in Washington State government. Years after we first met, and during the height of the effort to build a more inclusive language, I asked him,

Do you prefer the term deaf or hearing impaired?

Do I look impaired to you?

Point taken. The word “deaf” is the inclusive term.

Stay safe

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren.

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