Deaf Community Asks Oregon Lawmakers To Update Terminology

Feb 4, 2019

Credit Bradley W. Parks

Oregon’s deaf community is asking lawmakers to remove terms from state law that many of its members consider offensive.

Decades ago, Oregon and many other states started referring to deaf people as “hearing impaired.” It was thought to be a more sensitive way to refer to people with hearing loss. There was just one problem, says Oregon School for the Deaf director Sharla Jones. “No one thought to ask the deaf community how they felt about this terminology that’s always been somewhat distasteful to them," she said. "Impairment means something broken, to be fixed.”

Instead, Jones says the preferred term is “deaf” or “hard of hearing.” Jones testified in January before a meeting of the Oregon Senate's Committee on Education. The panel is set to vote Monday to advance a measure that would update the terms in Oregon’s special education statutes. The bill would remove the phrase "hearing impairment" and replace it with "deafness or being hard of hearing."

The measure has the support of the Oregon Association of the Deaf. If the bill is signed into law, Oregon would become at least the fourth state to remove the term "hearing impaired" from state lawbooks, joining New York, Utah and New Hampsire.