Really, don't use that term.

“Deaf Mute” Spotted In The Wild

“Hearing Impaired” is problematic. “Deaf mute,” though… that’s next-level. And both terms are featured in this well-meaning but mistake-laden article from the Seymour Tribune, a newspaper from Seymour, Indiana.

So what’s wrong with “deaf mute”? Partly it’s just the history – it’s one of those words/ terms that has gathered a lot of negative connotation based on how it was used. The context is redolent of discrimination, victimization, belittling, and more.

In addition to all of that, though, it’s plain inaccurate. Deaf people, as a group, do not have any particular problem with their vocal cords. We can create sound just fine – it’s just a matter of whether that sound resolves itself into speech that is easily understood.

The first result for the dictionary definition on Google even says:

Dated and offensive – we agree!

This article exhibits many other, more-typical problems, though. Including, but not limited to:

  1. The hearing perspective is centered.
  2. Voluntarily learning sign language is cast as something at least minorly heroic; a person with a Deaf sister “had to” learn ASL.
  3. Deaf people are cast as happily doing the work of teaching hearing people how to communicate with them, when that shouldn’t automatically be the Deaf people’s burden.
  4. The problem of communication is located largely with Deaf people, rather than with the hearing people who might find ways to communicate.
  5. Downright illegal practices re: interpreting and hospitals/ police are presented neutrally, without critical examination.

We’ve marked up the original article, and provided some minor rewrites that change the emphasis and messages a great deal.

There are also some things the article got right! We point those out, too.

Includes the markups: "sets up 'able' vs. 'can't," "No way!" re: deaf mute, "more pertinent that they know ASL" on section re: the people being deaf or hard of hearing and "helping" teach the class, "end there!" after "We should be able to communicate period;" the sentence continues, "speaking and sign language at the same time." Also change "had to learn sign language" due to a Deaf sister to "had the opportunity to learn..." Also changing several usages of "deaf" to "Deaf""Great" after "I think that everybody should know sign language." "Good emphasis on communicating well" after a comment about how Wilson communicates really well because she knows ASL. "Whole bunch of problems, just remove" after the paragraph: "To be able to communicate with people that can't normally communicate, I think it's very important because I can't imagine being deaf and not being able to talk to anybody."After a section that says that Wilson needs to accompany a Deaf friend to the hospital so that the friend would have an ASL interpreter, comment of "!! This is super not-cool. Add something about ADA requirements." Later, an entire paragraph is marked with "Remove!" That paragraph read: "There's a lot of hearing-impaired people all over," he said. "When they are at jobs, not a whole lot of people can speak to them. If you've got one person working somewhere and they have nobody to talk to, imagine being able to not talk or not to hear and not know what people are saying. You can't communicate with them." Also included adding "[Interpreter]" after "translator" in a quote, and replacing "Hearing impaired" with "[Deaf]" in a quote.After a paragraph that says that a Deaf person "likes" teaching sign language to others, whether at work or in a social setting - "Would be good to expand on this. Really his responsibility?" Changed "deaf and hearing community" to "Deaf and hearing communities."

Here’s how we’d rewrite it – what about you?

“Seymour Business Offering Sign Language Classes” rewritten

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