Thursday, December 19, 2019

Using Labels with Pride

Selecting a Name
            I was sitting in a high school class, observing my student. There is a second student with hearing loss in that class as well. They’re not really friends but they do have several classes together and know each other. On this day, the class was reviewing for a unit test and would be playing a Jeopardy-style game. The teacher instructed students to pair up, come up with a team name, and write that team name on the board where the score would be recorded.
My student and the other student with hearing loss were sitting near each other and decided to work together. After a brief moment of discussion and a high five, the second student hurried up to the board and wrote in careful block letters, “THE DEAF PEOPLE.” As she scanned the team names on the board, the teacher’s face went from smiling to concerned. She glanced at me and then anxiously tried to get the boys to change the name of their group.
Why?” my student asked, “We’re both deaf. We’re the deaf people.”

Teaching Labels and Identity
Identity is so important for all people, students with hearing loss included. When I’m working with students on self-advocacy—beginning as early as preschool— labels are part of what we discuss. We talk about the differences between audiological terminology (hard of hearing, deaf, etc.) and identity terminology (deaf, Deaf, hard of hearing, person with hearing loss, etc.) These labels may change over time as students get older; learn more about their hearing loss and communication style; and discover who they are as individuals within their communities.

Connecting through Differences

             Sitting in that classroom, I realized that it’s not enough to work with my students around choosing labels, but it’s also important to educate their teachers and school teams. Had this teacher realized that my student and his classmate chose the term “deaf” proudly, her reaction to them writing this on the board may have been different.
The teacher and I did discuss this event after class and she admitted that she was uncomfortable because she’d never had a student with a difference “own” it and express it so openly before. While most people want to ignore differences and pretend we are all the same, these students demonstrated that labels don’t have to be shameful or “bad” words. Sometimes the thing that makes you stand out is also the thing that helps you connect to others.