Terms of Endeafment

Terms of Endeafment

One of the several reasons students do not like Dr. Fernandes, the president-select of Gallaudet University, is that she is “not deaf enough.”  This is a pretty ambiguous term, so I googled it and got 91,800 hits (It will be 91,801 when or if this article is printed). There is even a book titled: “Not Deaf Enough.Terms of Endeafment ” I thought since cyberspace is already overcrowded with discussion of this term, I should leave it alone. But, misery loves company so I decided to write on.  To start with, I dug up some old stuff.

The deaf were simply deaf or hard of hearing until the 1970s when we were labeled “hearing impaired.” This term, according to those who used it, encompassed all people with any kind of hearing problem. However, the novelty of this grandiose term faded fast. This was also the time when deaf identity along with the concept of ASL as a bona fide language was taking shape. Thus the term ‘hearing impaired’ was rejected by the Deaf community. “We are deaf,” it declared, “not impaired anywhere.” The term died its natural death in America, but is very popular abroad – just like Marlboros.


The bourgeoning Deaf community, like any minority, began to stratify itself. Not all deaf people are alike and soon there were labels for various sub-groups that composed the deaf community. Many people take credit for the nomenclature for the four sub-groups identified within the deaf community.Terms of Endeafment Since no one has filed copyright for authorship, I will leave this issue alone and simply say that Deaf people coined the following terms.

The first group, of course, is Deaf with the capital D. They have their own cultural and linguistic identity. Their families and friends are Deaf. Their contact with the hearing community is limited to working with them or living in their neighborhood or associating with parents and siblings who happened to be hearing. This group considers itself a pure “Brahman Deaf” group and calls itself deafie.

The second group is deaf people with hearing loss, but who are not culturally deaf. This group is comprised of persons who are late deafened, associate with hearing people and use signed English. According to deafies, this group is not “really deaf” or not deaf enough, because its members think and act like hearing people.Terms of Endeafment This group is labeled heafie – half deaf, half hearing. The sign for heafies is same as hearing, except the place of sign is in front of the forehead.

The next group is of hearing people who by birth or by association have binding ties with the Deaf community. Hearing children of deaf couples (Coda), hearing family members of families with a large number of deaf people, some interpreters and those who work closely with the deaf and,  more  importantly, think like them are known as “dearies.”  They are hearing, but they think like deaf , use ASL fluently and socialize with the deaf most of the time. Interestingly, dearies, despite their hearing, are more accepted in the Deaf community than the heafies (even though it is the latter of these that shares their hearing loss).

Is that it?

No. I forgot the vast majority. That is hearing people. No need to define them. They make up the 99.99% of the world population. They are simply “hearies.” They may sign or not and they may love deaf people not. They are just hearies.

Such stratification is not limited to the deaf community. All minority groups have sub-groups. Black people have their Uncle Toms and pure Blacks. The Hindus have, of course, their caste system.  “I am different than my neighbor” is an old feeling that humans had ever since they hit Mother Earth.

Deafness is a low-incident disability (only 1 in 1000 people is deaf). We are a very small minority and since our disability is invisible, the general public knows about us only when we use signs (or, perhaps, carry a sign proclaiming deafness). Since we are small, we need to be united. Every member of deaf community has to work together. This unity was visible in 1988 when, according to Jack Gannon, the world heard Gallaudet.

Since then, we have been fragmenting. This fragmentation will hurt us, it is already hurting us. We blame hearing people for not being tolerant, but we have become intolerant ourselves. The vicious language dished out by bloggers showed how much of a depressing rift there is among us.

Deaf is deaf. We can discuss stratification for fun or for intellectual exercise, but when it comes to dealing with real life situations, let us be ONE!

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