It’s always interesting to see how the language surrounding disability evolves over time. In the DSM-IV, for example, “mental retardation” is the accepted term for what is now called intellectual developmental disorder in DSM-5 and intellectual disability by most professionals and the general public. I had to modify a blog post from 2007 when I republished it here, because it had “mental retardation” in it. This term is totally out of use now.
With regards to visual and hearing impairmetns, there are even more varied terms. “Blindness” and “deafness” are the most common, but “hard of hearing”, “hearing impairment”, “visual impairment”, “low vision”, “partially sighted”, etc. are also used. With regards to people who have both a vision and hearing impairment, the question is asked by Wittich et al. (2013) what term should be used for research purposes: deafblindess, dual sensory impairment, or somethign else entirely? The authors reviewed the literature and surveyed a number of professinals and reseachers in the area of deafblindness/dual sensory impairment/whatever. They found that “deafblindness” was more commonly used in journals speciifcally catering towards the vision or hearing field, whereas “dual sensory impairment” was used in more general journals and in journals with a higher impact factor. Similarly, those people surveyed who considered themselves primarily involved with research, preferred “dual sensory impairment”, whereas rehabilitation professionals preferred “deafblindness”. The study authros themselves propose “combined vision and hearing impairment”.
Wittich et al. do not discuss the cultural implications of each term, which were actually what motivated the DSM-5 committee to change the term for intellecutal disability more than did science. Wittich et al. also didn’t survey people with a combined vision and hearing impairment themselves.
Just my thought, but I find “dual sensory impairment” particularly confusing. I also find “combined vision and hearing impairment” really unnecessarily lengthy unless it serves a particular purpose, such as clarifying that hte individual has some vision and/or hearing. It also wouldn’t surprise me if people with acquired vision and hearing loss would prefer “dual sensory impairment” or “combined vision and hearing loss”. After all, people with an acquired disability, in my expeirnece, insist more on “person first” language, whereas those born with their disability prefer to see it as an inherent part of their identity and use language accordingly. I’ll be curious to know how the terminology in this area evolves over the next so many years.
Wittich W, Southall K, Sikora L, Watanabe DH & Gagné JP (2013), What’s in a Name: Dual Sensory Impairment or Deafblindness? British Journal of Visual Impairment, 31(3):198-207. DOI: 10.1177/0264619613490519.