Does being deaf make you "handicapped"?

This is an interesting question that Danny and I have discussed several times. He always argues that being deaf is a disability, and I always argue that it isn't. The latest discussion we had about it was really, really fascinating, and I want to share the main points from it.

Danny says that to him, the definition of "disabled" is any physical or mental handicap that keeps a person from functioning in a mainstream way, as well as something that will be changed when a person's body is resurrected.

I say that labeling a person as "disabled" just because they are different is not useful because it makes the world see them as people who can't, when the truth is that many so-called disabled people have abilities that the mainstream people lack. I also say that we don't know enough about resurrected bodies for that to be the standard by which we should judge our mortal bodies.

Danny says we do know some key things about resurrected beings: when Christ was resurrected, he could eat, he could talk, he could touch, and he could hear, among other things. He pointed out numerous references in the scriptures. He says that since we are made in God's image, our resurrected beings will be like God's, with the ability to hear.

I say that in my ASL 101 and 102 classes at BYU, the professor said that deaf people do not believe that being deaf is a disability or handicap. They find that label insulting because they can do anything that a hearing person can do, except hear.

Danny says that hearing is a big deal, and just because they accept deafness in their community does not mean that it is not a handicap in the mainstream. For example, to communicate with most people, a deaf person will have to resort to irregular, difficult methods because most people can't sign.

I say that I guess whether or not someone is disabled or handicapped has a lot to do with the community in which they live. We then started discussing blind people. I guess I hadn't realized it before, but I definitely believe that blind people are "disabled". Danny wondered how that differs from deaf people. I'm not so sure that it does, except that there aren't large communities of blind people the way there are of deaf people.

When a deaf child is born to deaf parents, everybody celebrates. This is a pretty rare occurrence. Even though cochlear implants can usually "cure" deafness, people in the deaf community voluntarily choose not to have them put in. I'm not sure about all of the nuances of why this is, or how they view them; I just know that deafness in the deaf community is celebrated, and outside it is labeled a misfortune.

Probably the reason I have a problem labeling deaf people as "handicapped" is because that label implies lost opportunities, inabilities, and yes, misfortune. But the only thing they can't do in life that other people can is hear. And while I understand that not hearing means no music, difficulty communicating with the non-deaf, and constant adjustments while in the hearing world, it does NOT mean that these people should wallow in misery and live hollow, boring lives focused on some label affixed to them by society. My point is: deaf people have just as much of an ability to lead happy, fulfilled lives and be in happy, fulfilling relationships as non deaf people, so what is the point in calling them "handicapped"?

In fact, what really is the point of calling anyone "handicapped"? Doesn't everybody have something wrong with their body or mind that will not be present when we are resurrected? Doesn't everybody have something wrong with their body or mind that separates them from the "mainstream"? Who among us is wholly "mainstream"?

I can see how giving certain people handicapped stickers in their cars is a good thing. I think our society has come a long way; now businesses and schools are required to have ramps for wheelchairs nearly everywhere. That's not even something I used to think about before I had kids to push in a stroller.

Speaking of strollers, I once pushed my kids in their stroller past a man in a wheelchair being pushed by a younger person. I couldn't help but think, "You know, I used to think of people in wheelchairs as being "handicapped", but there's no way I would label my babies that way. Yet they need the same kind of help because neither of them can walk perfectly well yet/anymore."

I guess it's somewhat hypocritical that I consider blind people "handicapped," but not deaf people. I think in the end, both Danny and I agreed that the truth is that everybody is "handicapped" to some extent, but the label carries such a bad stigma that it should be avoided when possible.

Side note: in the book I just read about kids with disabilities, a deaf girl was born to hearing parents, and the parents gave her cochlear implants. Clearly, to them, she had a disability. I'm pretty sure if we have a child born deaf, we will do the same thing. But I can see why a deaf person might not.


  1. Isn't it sort of a mixture of both, disabled and not? I would hope that after this life they would be able to hear again. Everything they didn't have or lost here they would gain or regain after this life. And clearly they have a challenge that they wake up with everyday and have to get through. Yet, resilient spirit makes their disability a challenge not define who they are.

    When my husband was coaching soccer we had a boy whose parents were both deaf. The boy was not. We loved their boy and we loved his parents. I tried to communicate in what little ways I could with his mom. But, I was sad I couldn't hear about all her thoughts because the best I could do in terms of signing was the alphabet. We'd have to spell words to talk and it just wasn't enough to be able to really get to know her the way I wanted.

    However, they are amazing people. They embrace the challenge that they were given and don't let it stop them from being who they are or from trying to communicate.

    I would think that they want those around them to know that they've chosen to handle their difficulty in a positive way and so don't embrace the label of disability because it carries a negative connotation/association and only speaks of their challenge and not to who they are as a person.

    What if we could use a different word instead of disability? What if we could just see ALL people as people fighting an uphill battle. What if we used a word that brings us closer together instead of a word that seems to separate us and in a way that highlights our peril and not our resilient strength? I would like to look at the world that way.

  2. I think the big reason behind why deaf people congregate is that they share an exclusive language. That automatically gives them a huge sense of community.

    I think not being able to hear music, though, is a HUGE handicap. I mean, at least a blind person could feel a Bernini sculpture. But a deaf person would have no chance of grasping the awe of Bach or the delicacy of Fauré. Not a chance.

    Plus, if their carbon monoxide alarm went off in the middle of the night....

  3. Is being blind a disability just because one cannot see? The savior healed the blind and the deaf. You can't use scripture to prove that the inability to hear in a society where hearing is the norm from scripture. If the majority of people in the world were deaf then hearing might be considered a disability, but that is not the way it is.

    Iagree with Danny.

  4. I think the main difference in what Danny and I think is whether we see a disability as something inherent or defined by others. Danny thinks that deafness and blindness are inherently disabilities because that's not what our resurrected bodies will be like, and I think that 'disability' is a subjective label applied to people by a judging society. But then I become a huge hypocrite because I think blindness is a major handicap. I guess it's because there aren't communities of blind people like there are communities of deaf people - and like Marea says, those deaf communities exist because of the shared language! ASL (or BSL - British Sign Language, or what they use in other places) is its own language with its own grammar and syntax etc. It's not translated English.

    I guess the deeper question is what makes a society? Is it, perhaps, shared language? I think at least part of it is. Interesting how much language defines and influences a group of people.

    Not sure, but I seem to remember learning about how some deaf people hope that their resurrected bodies remain deaf.

  5. Oh yeah, Michael, they totally have alarms for deaf people! Not just carbon monoxide, but like, regular clock alarms. I think some alarms work with flashing lights, and others work by vibrations under the pillow or wherever.

    And you're right, it would be sad not to hear music. But I wonder if deaf people sometimes pity the hearing the way we are pitying them. I think the reason being blind seems like more of a disability to me is the extent to which it cuts one off from the community; it seems that blind people can't do a lot of things that seeing people can, while deaf people can pretty much do everything that hearing people can do, except hear. Like, a deaf person can drive. A blind person can't. A deaf person can read. A blind person can't, unless it's in braille. A deaf person can cook. A blind person...I don't really know, but it seems that would be hard. Maybe it's just that our society is SUPER sight-dependent? Maybe in another world being blind would be less of a disability than being deaf? I smell the makings of a good sci-fi novel...


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