Definitions & Identities

By February 19th, 2021Deaf Community, Deaf Culture, Identity, Information

The words "Deaf and Hard of Hearing" in rainbow-coloured text. The "i" in "Hearing" is dotted with a ladybug.

The following is an excerpt from the National Association of the Deaf :

The Deaf and hard of hearing community is diverse. There are variations in how a person becomes Deaf or hard of hearing, level of hearing, age of onset, educational background, communication methods, and cultural identity. How people “label” or identify themselves is personal and may reflect identification with the Deaf and hard of hearing community, the degree to which they can hear, or the relative age of onset.

For example, some people identify themselves as “late-deafened,” indicating that they became deaf later in life. Other people identify themselves as “deaf-blind,” which usually indicates that they are Deaf or hard of hearing and also have some degree of vision loss. Some people believe that the term “people with hearing loss” is inclusive and efficient. However, some people who were born Deaf or hard of hearing do not think of themselves as having lost their hearing. Over the years, the most commonly accepted terms have come to be “Deaf,” and “hard of hearing.”

According to Carol Padden and Tom Humphries, in Deaf in America: Voices from a Culture (1988): we use the lowercase deaf when referring to the audiological condition of not hearing, and the uppercase Deaf when referring to a particular group of Deaf people who share a language – American Sign Language (ASL) – a culture, [and community]. The members of this group have inherited their sign language, use it as a primary means of communication among themselves, and hold a set of beliefs about themselves and their connection to the larger society. We distinguish them from, for example, those who find themselves losing their hearing because of illness, trauma or age; although these people share the condition of not hearing, they do not have access to the knowledge, beliefs, and practices that make up the culture of Deaf people.

“Hard-of-hearing” can denote a person with a mild-to-moderate hearing loss. Or it can denote a deaf person who doesn’t have/want any cultural affiliation with the Deaf community. Or both. The HOH dilemma: in some ways hearing, in some ways deaf, in others, neither. Can one be hard-of-hearing and ASL-Deaf? That’s possible, too. Can one be hard-of-hearing and function as hearing? Of course. What about being hard-of-hearing and functioning as a member of both the hearing and Deaf communities? That’s a delicate tightrope-balancing act, but it too is possible. As for the political dimension: HOH people can be allies of the Deaf community. They can choose to join or to ignore it. They can participate in the social, cultural, political, and legal life of the community along with culturally-Deaf or live their lives completely within the parameters of the “Hearing world.” But they may have a more difficult time establishing a  satisfying cultural/social identity. Deaf Life, “For Hearing People Only” (October 1997).

The term “hearing-impaired” is no longer accepted by most in the community and is not a politically correct term. The term “hearing-impaired” is viewed as negative as it focuses on what people can’t do. It establishes the standard as “hearing” and anything different as “impaired,” or substandard, hindered, or damaged. It implies that something is not as it should be and ought to be fixed if possible. Every individual is unique.

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