Masthead graphic Hearing Loss Association of America - Delaware Chapters -

Am I Hard of Hearing,
deaf or Deaf?

by Neil Bauman, Ph.D. with Dave Myers, Ph.D. and Marjie Anderson

The inspiring news stories about Seattle Seahawks' 'deaf' player, Derrick Coleman, raises an interesting question.

Do those of us who can hear and participate in conversation, albeit only with hearing aids (HAs) or cochlear implants (CIs), similarly regard ourselves as 'deaf'?

With hearing aids, Derrick Coleman can hear play calls in the noisy Seattle stadium and can answer questions at a news conference. Are we deaf?

Is he?

My identity is 'a person with significant hearing loss' (aka hard of hearing).

My mother transitioned from hard of hearing to what I called deaf when she gave up her hearing aids and could no longer hear anything (we communicated by writing notes).

If people like Derrick Coleman and the rest of us are deaf, then what defines the boundary line between deaf and non-deaf? I am curious: how do you view yourself? As deaf, even if able to converse with HAs or CIs? What is your definition of deafness?

Audiological deafness means you can't hear without amplification. It is written with a small "d" (deaf).

Cultural deafness means you belong to the Deaf culture. It is written with a capital "D" (Deaf). Culturally Deaf people use a manually signed language such as American Sign Language (ASL) to communicate.

If you are deaf, you may choose to use your voice to talk and use amplification in order to hear (as much as possible). Most people would call you "hard of hearing". However, if you choose not to speak, but use ASL to communicate and identify yourself with the Deaf community, then you'd be both deaf and Deaf.

I am hard of hearing when I use amplification (hearing aids or assistive listening devices). However, when I take them off, I am audiologically deaf (functionally deaf). So when I am wearing my hearing aids, I might say I'm hard of hearing. Without my hearing aids, I often say I'm deaf (or functionally deaf).

The politically correct term is to say you are "a person with hearing loss", putting the "person" ahead of the hearing loss, since hearing loss does not (or should not) define us. We are people first and foremost, who just happen to have a problem hearing.

The politically incorrect term to some people that have difficulty hearing is to call us "hearing impaired". Many hard of hearing and Deaf people find this term offensive. (To me a "hearing impaired" person is a hearing person that has had too much to drink!) Late deafened people are people who have lost their hearing (typically) as adults (after they have acquired language) so they use their voices to talk. However, they "hear" by using hearing aids, cochlear implants, hearing assistive technology, amplification devices, by signing or by a combination of both.

There are also people with hearing loss who learned to sign at some point in their lives but did not attend a school for the deaf. Basically, whatever works best in a given situation. (Bauman, Myers and Anderson) Page 2

Labels are often confusing as typically more than one label fits us, and each person defines the label a bit differently. The best thing to do is to ask the person how do they identify themselves-as Deaf, deaf, oral deaf, hard of hearing, a person with a hearing loss. Then use that term when communicating with that person. People who consider themselves "

As Marjie Anderson explains:

It depends on who I am talking to really. Some people don't understand hard of hearing or late deafened or oral deaf or deaf versus Deaf. Don't even get me started on total communication, pidgin signed English (PSE), Conceptually Accurate Signed English (CASE) and American Sign Language (ASL) or See Essential English (SEE).

I just tell some people I can't hear very well, and then give them a list of things they can do to help us communicate. To others, I say I'm deaf. They seem to get that I can't understand their speech (due to a variety of reasons).

To people within the hearing loss community, I am hard of hearing. That clues them in that I didn't grow up signing, and I went to mainstream schools.

According to the Social Security Disability rules I am deaf. Because I sign, some will say I am Deaf. Because I can't understand speech in normal situations any more, but used to, some will say I am late-deafened. Because I can sometimes hear noises (loud enough and the right pitch) others will say I am hard of hearing.

So like the labels: grandmother, mother, daughter, sister and friend, I also can be hard of hearing, late-deafened, Deaf and deaf all at the same time, and they can all be true. They are just words, and different people define them differently. Call me what you want. I call myself "Marjie".

As Marjie said, the label isn't what's important. What is important is that we have effective communication with the person in front of us! So call me what you want. Just don't call me late for dinner! Note: All 3 authors have a hearing loss and Dr. Bauman and Beck are audiologists.

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