Standing outside the RV that has become his second home during the past few weeks, the comedian takes a rare, more serious tone as he looks at the bright green vehicle with his face on the side. Written next to him, in font that can be seen from miles away: D.J. Demers, the “hearing aid guy.”
“I never wanted to be ‘the hearing aid guy,’” he says. “Now I’m on a tour, and I’m the hearing aid guy.”
The “hearing aid guy” is based on a joke Demers performed on the late-night TV show, Conan, which garnered him national attention in 2014. As someone who has been wearing hearing aids since he was four-years-old, they have inevitably become part of his identity.
Google search, “the hearing aid guy,” and D.J.’s website, comedy perfomances and Reddit AMA appear on the first page. On and off the stage he’s become “the hearing aid guy,” but from now on, his hearing loss isn’t something he wants to be defined by, he says.
It’s clear to everyone that the label needs to be removed – from the RV and our vocabulary.
We stand back and watch D.J. take aim, as we wonder out-loud if we should inform the hotel staff that we’ll be defacing our own vehicle.
Then, D.J. blacks out the words.
“Bye, bye, the hearing aid guy.” he says.
Labels have been a topic of the Here to Hear Tour since its inception. One of the goals of the cross-country comedy tour is to break down stigmas around hearing loss, not only within the “hearing community,” but also to unify the Deaf, deaf and hard-of-hearing communities.
But, just like anytime we’re asked to but a defining statement on something, there’s fluctuations. Limitations and personal revelations that demand a selection of options, or none at all. For the deaf communities it’s no different. There’s a variety of titles people who have hearing loss use. Knowing what word does or doesn’t resonate with individuals often requires pause and internal reflection.
Many terms are used when describing hearing loss, including deaf, hard of hearing, hearing impaired, Deaf (with a capital “D”), late-deafened, oral, signing deaf, and speaking deaf. But what is right for one person may not be for another, and there are words that we should avoid.
Deaf: Spelled with a capital “D,” Deaf people often consider themselves culturally deaf and have a strong deaf identity. They often use sign language for the majority of their communication.
deaf: Lowercased, deaf people usually communicate verbally and don’t rely on sign language. This is usually the preferred term for people who have limited natural hearing.
Hard-of-hearing: An accepted term, but may be considered misleading depending on the level of hearing loss.
Hearing impaired: This used to be the catchall term, but it can have negative connotations. First, this terminology does not use people-first language; it places the disability before the person. Second, it establishes “hearing” as the standard, and anything different as “impaired,” or substandard.
Read more: What’s in a Name?
“The hearing aid guy,” “the kid with hearing aids,” “the deaf kid,” comes with the same negative connotation. (Some more obvious than others.)
As we travel across the country we vow to renew our outlook on the hearing loss community and the technology some use to support their lifestyle.
“I love my hearing aids,” D.J. says in reflection of the new paint job. “The point is I’m not the hearing aid guy. I’m not defined by them.”