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Terminology for deafness

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There are various terms for describing people with varying degrees or types of deafness. Understanding these terms and their appropriate usage is crucial for effective communication and respect for individuals’ preferences.

Deaf: This term Deaf (with a capitalised “D”) typically refers to individuals with profound hearing loss, often from birth or early childhood. They may primarily communicate through sign language and identify strongly with Deaf culture.

deaf: The term “deaf” (with a lowercase “d”) typically refers to the condition of being unable to hear. Individuals who are “deaf” have significant hearing loss but do not identify with Deaf culture or use sign language as their primary mode of communication.

Hard of Hearing: People who are hard of hearing experience mild to moderate hearing loss. They rely on spoken language and benefit from hearing aids or assistive devices.

Hearing Impaired: While once widely used, some find this term outdated or offensive due to its implication of brokenness. The term is often used in government documentation. Some individuals prefer “hearing impaired” to “hard of hearing”.

Hearing Loss: This term is a broad descriptor for any level of reduced hearing, ranging from mild to profound. It is often used in medical or clinical contexts. For many Deaf individuals, being Deaf is not seen as a “loss” but rather as a unique way of being in the world, with its own language and cultural norms.

Deafblind: Individuals who have both hearing and vision impairments. Communication with them often involves tactile methods like Braille or sign language.

Deaf Plus: This term acknowledges additional disabilities or conditions alongside deafness, such as intellectual disabilities or mobility impairments. It is not often used in Australia.

When using these terms, it’s essential to prioritise individual preferences and self-identifications. Some individuals may prefer person-first language (e.g., person who is deaf), while others prefer identity-first language (e.g., Deaf person). Asking individuals which term they prefer demonstrates respect for their autonomy and identity. Additionally, recognising the diversity within the deaf and hard-of-hearing community fosters inclusivity and understanding.




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