Hearing loss represents one of the most common disabilities worldwide. Despite its prevalence, there is a degree of stigmatization within the public’s perception of, or attitude toward, individuals diagnosed with hearing loss or deafness. This stigmatization is propagated by the way hearing loss is referenced, especially in writing. Although the medical community is familiar with hearing loss, medical research is not consistently compliant with nonstigmatizing terminology, like person-centered language (PCL). This study aims to quantify the use of PCL in medical research related to hearing loss.
A cross-sectional analysis of articles related to hearing loss was performed using PubMed as the primary search engine. The search encompassed articles from January 1, 2016, to November 17, 2020. Journals had to have at least 20 search returns to be included in this study. The primary search resulted in 2392 articles from 31 journals. The sample was then randomized and the first 500 articles were chosen for data extraction. Article screening was performed systematically. Each article was evaluated for predetermined non-PCL terminology to determine adherence to the American Medical Association Manual of Style (AMAMS) guidelines. Articles were included if they involved research with human participants and were available in English. Commentaries and editorials were excluded.
Four hundred eighty-two articles were included in this study. Results from this study indicate that 326 articles were not adherent to AMAMS guidelines for PCL (326/482; 68%). Emotional language (i.e., burden, suffer, afflicted) was employed to reference hearing loss in 114 articles (114/482; 24%). Non-PCL adherent labels (i.e., impaired and handicapped) were identified in 46% (221/482) of articles related to hearing loss or deafness. Sixty-seven articles (67/482; 14%) used person-first language in reference to the word “deaf” and 15 articles (15/482; 3%) used “deaf” as a label.
Based on the findings from this cross-sectional analysis, the majority of medical research articles that address hearing loss contain terminology that does not conform to PCL guidelines, as established by AMAMS. Many respected organizations, like the American Medical Association, have encouraged the use of PCL in interactions between patient and medical provider. This encompasses communication in person and in writing. This recommendation stems from the understood role that language plays in how we build impressions of others, especially in a medical context. Implementing PCL to destigmatize language used in reference to deafness or hearing loss is essential to increase advocacy and protect the autonomy of these individuals.