Handicap is pretty much frowned upon in the UK and not used. Its considered patronising and reminiscent of having to go “cap in hand” to beg for favours. In Canada though you see signs for handicapped parking spaces, it doesnt seem to be a problem word here. I’m uncomfortable with it though.
Hearing impaired is another phrase thats fraught with problems. I think it describes my hearing because I could hear once but now I can’t. I was told by a member of the Deaf community that this phrase is insulting, they don’t consider that their hearing is impaired.
The phrase that they suggested I use is hard of hearing. To me it sounds like it’s hard to hear, but I can do it if I try, in the same way that homework is hard. It doesn’t describe the depth of my hearing loss, it doesn’t cover the impossibility of hearing when the nerve cells are dead. I certainly don’t want to go be audist here and I respect the Deaf community’s point of view, on the other hand I don’t think that I should be told how to describe my hearing.
Impaired isn’t a good word in North America. “Impaired” has negative connotations to do with recklessness. An impaired driver is a drunk driver.
Hearing loss, Loss? is that negative? Is it careless? As Oscar Wilde said “To lose one parent, Mr Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness”.
Disabled seems reasonably safe, as long as you refer to the disability and not the person, ie a person who has a disability, not a disabled person. I am still an able person, I am a person with a disability. Differentlyabled is a clumsy word but apt.
The World Health Organisation has defined the words; handiap, disability and impairment.
INTERNATIONAL CLASSIFICATION OF IMPAIRMENTS, DISABILITES AND HANDICAPS
(ICIDH), WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION, Geneva, 1980
Impairment: Any loss or abnormality of psychological, physiological, or anatomical structure or function.
Disability: Any restriction or lack (resulting from an impairment) of ability to perform an activity in the manner or within the range considered normal for a human being.
Handicap: A disadvantage for a given individual, resulting from an impairment or disability, that, limits or prevents the fulfillment of a role that is normal, depending on age, sex, social and cultural factors, for that individual.
By these definitions;
My impairment is that my hearing isn’t what it was.
My disability is that I am not able to hold a conversation easily, to use the phone, to watch a movie, to enjoy music.
I am handicapped by movie theatres without captions, a theatre performance without captions, a telephone without a text display, a restaurant with background music, a person who won’t talk more clearly or write things down.
So a handicap is a manmade condition, caused by barriers that prevent a person with a disability from accessing the same physical, cultural, social activities that someone without that disability has access too. Handicaps should not exist.