Derogatory term used by ST to describe deaf people

The following letter was rejected for publication by the Straits Times’ Forum Page. The letter was accompanied by 15 signatures.

Dear editor,

We winced, we cringed and we threw up our hands in exasperation when we read your news report “Four deaf-mutes jailed over stolen m-cycles” on page C6 of today’s print-edition Straits Times. This also appears on ST’s online site titled “Four jailed over motorbike offences.”

There are two issues here. First, why is it necessary to mention, in the headline of the report in the print edition, the fact that the thieves are deaf? Their physical disability may be a newsworthy element by itself, but phrasing it in such a way in the headline is definitely offensive to deaf people. Why can’t it be phrased as in the online version?

Secondly, please note that the term “deaf-mute” is inaccurate and historically derogatory, and should not be used to describe the deaf. Almost all deaf people have normal, functional vocal cords; they can and do speak, even if their speech is not as clear as hearing people’s. Cases of people who are truly both deaf and mute are extremely rare.

As deaf persons ourselves, we do not want such a term to be used to describe us. It leads to misunderstandings and only reinforce the common misconception that deaf people are necessarily mute as well. Just call us “deaf” (which is acceptable to deaf people who use sign language), or, to describe in general those with hearing loss, “hearing-impaired”.

This is not a new issue, but something we have brought up repeatedly, through the years, to various local media whenever they use the term “deaf-mute”, “deaf and mute” or “deaf and dumb”, and which have been acknowledged by them to be in error. Here, we would like to appeal for the Straits Times to state, ensure and enforce the non-usage of “deaf-mute” in its editorial house style.

Thank you very much.

Alvan Yap