A bill that unanimously passed the House of Delegates this week changes Virginia Code to replace the term “hearing-impaired” with “deaf or hard of hearing” and “hearing loss.”
Introduced by Del. Bob Thomas, whose 28th District includes parts of Fredericksburg and Stafford County, the bill also renames the Virginia Hearing Impairment Identification and Monitoring System as the Virginia Hearing Loss Identification and Monitoring System. According to Thomas, if the bill is also passed by the Senate, Virginia will be the fifth state to eliminate the term “hearing-impaired.”
“Words matter to our friends in the deaf and hard of hearing community,” Thomas wrote in an email. “They are on a nationwide push to remove the term ‘hearing-impaired’ from circulation. It is a term they find offensive because it defines them in terms of something they lack. I am happy to take up the cause and bring Virginia on board.”
Thomas worked with ReBecca Bennett, coordinator of the local disAbility Resource Center’s Deaf and Hard of Hearing Department, to introduce the legislation.
Bennett also directs the summer camp Signs of Fun for children who are hard of hearing.
Bennett is deaf and said the term “hearing-impaired” always made her cringe. However, she kept pushing these feelings to the side.
“I felt I had no right to complain,” she said.
But once she started working with the Signs of Fun campers and saw how the term “impaired” affected them, she decided she could no longer ignore the situation.
“When my kids started discussing why everyone calls them ‘impaired,’ what does it mean, why do people think it’s politically correct to call someone ‘less than’ and how it affects their faith in themselves, I guess this is where the words ‘hearing impaired’ started slapping me in the face,” Bennett said.
“These kids are brilliant, smart, funny and compassionate. They have all the traits of their hearing peers. They just can’t hear,” she continued. “They want to ‘be all that they can be’ but when the world is already plotting against them, then how can they rise up against such negativity?”
Bennett said she wrote her thoughts in an email to Thomas in October, not expecting a reply.
But in January, she received one.
“A bill was made, HB 2131,” Bennett said. “Now I can sing with Schoolhouse Rock from my past, ‘I’m just a bill, but I know I’ll be a law someday ... At least I hope and pray that I will.’”
The bill is being considered by the Senate committee on Education and Health.