Deafness and Hearing Impairment
Deaf, deaf, hard of hearing and hearing impairment are some examples of terminology often used when referring to a person who is unable to hear sound. Because there is such a vast range of sounds to be interpreted, there will be a wide variation between individuals and what sounds they are able to hear and interpret.
The use of appropriate terminology is important to note as there are often distinct differences between people with a hearing impairment who are oral and those who use sign language to communicate as well as the way they perceive themselves.
People who are born deaf or became deaf at an early age (before language acquisition) use the term Deaf (with a capital “D”). Deaf people identify themselves as part of a Deaf Culture and Community and are likely to use Auslan (Australian Sign Language) as a first or preferred language.
The term deaf (with lower case letter “d”) is used more generally when referring to people with a condition that has led to them acquiring a hearing loss to whatever degree regardless whether signing or oral methods of communication are used.
Hard of Hearing
Generally this term refers to people who have hearing loss and use speech as a primary means of communication. Children who are born with hearing loss or people who experience deterioration of hearing at a later stage in life having always used speech to communicate would be referred to as “hard of hearing”.
There are debates about the use of this term that was often used to place anyone who was Deaf or hard of hearing into one category, not recognising the cultural differences. Using this term would cause offence if used with people who are culturally Deaf. The term is however, often used to describe people who have experienced varying degrees of hearing loss after the acquisition of speech. Deaf Australia describes hearing impairment (HI) as:
“… a full or partial decrease in the ability to understand sounds. The term “hearing impaired” is often used to refer to those who are deaf but it is viewed negatively by members of the Deaf community who prefer the terms “Deaf” and “hard of hearing”.
Deaf Australia Therefore Recommends:
“From 19th November 2010 Deaf Australia’s documents and communications will use the following terms:
- “deaf” when referring to all Deaf and hard of hearing groups at once
- “Deaf” when referring to culturally Deaf people who use Auslan and identify with the Deaf community
- “Hard of Hearing” when referring to people whose primary communication mode is speech”
Reference: Deaf Australia www.deafau.org.au/info/terminology.php
However, in their Booklet “Better Information & Communication Practices” downloadable on the FaHCSIA website they have stated “The definition of hearing impairment includes people who are deaf and people who have very limited hearing”.
Reference: Federal Department of Family, Community and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA) www.fahcsia.gov.au
It is important to exercise sensitivity when considering the context in which these terms are used.
NB: The World Federation of the Deaf advises that it is not acceptable to use the following terms when referring to deaf people: “deaf-mute”, “deaf and dumb” or “hearing impairment” www.wfdeaf.org/about