Classifying Impairment in Western Societies

In my previous two blogs I criticised the notion that there is a single identity of impairment. In my second blog in particular I argued that there are commonly two ways to consider the identity of an impaired person: the subjective and objective aspects of impairment. Subjective impairments are those that logically affect the life of a person given a particular circumstance; i.e. I find it hard to hear people on my mobile / cell phone in all but the most acoustically sophisticated and quiet surroundings, but I have no problem texting people. Thus my subjective hearing impairment only affects limited elements of my life and the environments that I work in. Objective impairments, on the other hand, are those that are defined by, and often imposed on the identity of a person by, the greater society. For instance, in my book God, Money and Politics (Hayhoe 2008a) I argued that asylums and schools for the blind were founded on the notion that “being blind” became a student’s identity, and one that had to be controlled morally, economically and even politically within the confines of their institution in order to control the society beyond its walls. In this blog I look at this objective aspect of impairment in particular, and the core qualities which (despite national and cultural differences) the greater Western society, or westernised societies classifies people as impaired.…

Subjective and Objective Aspects of Deafness and Blindness

In order to simplify a definition of deafness and blindness, it is necessary to see these conceptualizations in the context of a social and cultural epistemology of impairment. Firstly, impairment can be defined by the individual given particular circumstances: what an individual can do in given circumstances. This can be referred to as Subjective Impairment, and is so called because it examines each person’s trait according to its context and subject: the environment, the task, the man, the woman, the girl or the boy, not the impaired identity of the person. For instance, I have no hearing impairment whilst I am reading a book, but I have a walking impairment when I am carrying heavy shopping bags. Thus, my identification as a hearing impaired person by others is based on a number of different subjective concepts to those of a perception of my lived reality in many situations; i.e. although my hearing problem only takes up a little of my life and its degree of annoyance or impairment is dependent on individual circumstances, this is felt to control enough of my normal existence to constitute disadvantage, suffering or discomfort.…

When Gucci Makes Hearing Aids I’ll Be Deaf

I am 42 years old. Tinnitus runs in my mother’s family. My mother has it; my uncles and aunts on her side have it; my grandmother had it for as long as I could remember. When I was in my mid-twenties, I began to notice my hearing deteriorating. Because this problem was in my family, my doctors monitored my progress. Early tests revealed that this problem wasn’t too severe. I resisted further hearing tests until my mid-thirties, when it became too much of a problem to ignore. At this point, I had a further hearing test and discovered I had lost enough high frequencies to be considered hearing impaired. I now have to wear an ugly National Health Service protuberance from my ear until I earn enough to afford a high tech Danish hearing aid that can sit in my ear (almost) invisibly.

So, am I deaf?…