Did you say “hearingsplaining”?

Did you say “hearingsplaining”?
How to raise our awareness of our attitudes towards deaf people  

Written by Julie Lévesque, Cynthia Benoit, Daz Saunders and Geneviève Bujold 

It’s a good idea to take your magnifying glass out and turn it on yourself as often as possible. It’s surprising to see how easily you automatically develop certain attitudes without suspecting how they might impact the person or group of people you’re talking to. Even if they have the best intentions, hearing people can, consciously or not, engage in “hearingsplaining” in many everyday situations, at work, in the public arena, etc. 

Where did this concept originate?
The term “hearingsplaining” belongs to a group of new words (such as “whitesplaining” and “straightsplaining”) that were inspired by a better-known word, “mansplaining”, a feminist concept that emerged around 2008, which refers to “a man explaining to a woman, often in a condescending or patronizing way, something that she already knows or even something about which she has expert knowledge”.   

What exactly is it? 
“Hearingsplaining” occurs when a hearing person provides an explanation to a deaf person on a topic that the deaf person is more competent at or has more experience with. It is sometimes done condescendingly, too confidently, inaccurately or simplistically.  

Maybe your cousin is Deaf, or you got 87% in your LSQ 3 course, or your grandfather wears hearing aids, or you saw ALL the episodes of Switched at Birth (us, too!!), or maybe you work regularly with deaf people. However, your experience doesn’t replace that of a deaf person, and even less so that of Deaf professionals. 

What forms does it take?
Here are a few examples inspired by actual experiences that represent the reality of many deaf and hard of hearing people. In these situations, a hearing person:  

  1. Immediately assumes that the deaf person has not understood
    During a meeting between a deaf person and a hearing person, an interpreter suddenly stops and says to the deaf person: “But you don’t understand what he said. In fact, what he means is […]”, even though the two people had known one another for a long time and had a good understanding of the context of the discussion.
  2. Doesn’t trust the experience of a deaf person
    A deaf man is with a group of hearing and deaf travellers in Cyprus, a country that the Deaf man is very familiar with. When the group gets lost, the man explains that he can guide them to their destination. They ignore him and rely instead on the directions provided by a hearing person who doesn’t really know where they are going. The group ends up getting more lost when they could instead have listened to the deaf man right from the start, as he knew the way.
  3. Minimizing deaf person’s knowledge on the subject
    A deaf person is a big fan of the group ABBA and has collected a lot of ABBA paraphernalia. During a discussion with a hearing person about the group, the hearing person starts providing explanations about ABBA even though they are aware that the deaf person likes and knows the group very well.
  4. Believes that they are able to understand faster
    A hearing person tells a joke to a deaf person and afterwards explains the joke to the latter even though they understood it.
  5. Claims to have sufficient knowledge to voice their opinion on matters specific to the deaf community
    A hearing film director tells an ASL teacher that she finds sign language very beautiful and suggests that the latter teach hearing actors so that they can take deaf acting roles and raise the visibility of this lovely language. Despite the teacher’s explanations about issues of cultural appropriation and usurpation that affect deaf artists, the director says that with a good actor, no one will see the difference.

So what can you do to become more aware?
You can ask yourself four very simple questions. Or maybe even one or two will suffice. The important thing is to sufficiently internalize the questions so that you can go through them automatically every time you interact with a deaf person.

To understand more clearly and, most importantly, to learn to recognize all the situations where you might find yourself needlessly giving explanations to someone who is already knowledgeable about a subject, the little diagram below (adapted by Cynthia Benoit and Daz Saunders from a chart on mansplaining designed by Kim Goodwin) may prove very useful.

In fact, what you need to consider above all else is whether the deaf person or group of deaf people asked you for an explanation or not. Food for thought.

The title of the image is "Am I hearingsplaining?”. This title is written in white on a gray band, located at the very top. Further down, the background is white, and we see several small boxes on the left, in the center and on the right. All the boxes are connected by golden arrows. The whole image represents a "path" to follow as you answer the questions that tell you whether you are hearingsplaining or not. The boxes containing the main questions (Did the person ask you to explain it? / Do you have more experience in than this person in this field? / Would most hearing people, with similar education and experience, already know this? / Did you ask the person if they wanted it explained?) have a grey background and the question are written in white. These boxes lead to intermediate answer choices that are written in black on a white background in the middle of gold arrows that lead to the next boxes. The boxes with the final answers written in white are located on the right side of the image. The first box at the top is green (It’s not hearingsplaining). The other three are located at the bottom right, one above the other, and appear in yellow (It's probably hearingsplaining.), orange (It's definitely hearingsplaining.) or dark red (Stop it right now!), depending on the final answer reached by following the path of questions and the various answer choices. At the bottom of the image, in the center, we see the CB Linguistic Services logo, and on the right, the credit (Cynthia Benoit, Daz Saunders. Inspired by @kimgoodwin (Mansplaining)).


Leduc, V. (2017). Audisme et sourditude : les dimensions affectives de l’oppression. Créativité citoyenne. Vol. 10, no. 1. pp. 4-13. 

Leduc, V. et Grenier, L. (2015).
C’est tombé dans l’oreille d’une Sourde : La sourditude par la bande dessignée. Thèse de doctorat. Université de Montréal. 

Stine, T. (2019). Quit « hearingsplaining » to the Deaf community. Humans

Swinbourne, C. (2017). What does ‘hearingsplaining’ mean? (BSL). The Limping Chicken.

UQAM (2021). Équité, diversité et inclusion – Autres termes de référence.