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Terminology for deafness

There are various terms for describing people with varying degrees or kinds of deafness. The most important of these terms are defined below.

If you are not sure which term to use, it is advisable to check with the person you are talking with or about to determine which term they prefer to use.

  1. Deaf (with a capitalised D) is used to describe those who use Auslan (Australian Sign Language) to communicate, and who identify as members of the signing Deaf community.

    These people may also identify themselves as "culturally Deaf." They are more likely to have been born deaf or become deaf early in life.
  2. deaf (with a small d) is a more general term used to describe the physical condition of not hearing, and also to describe people who are physically deaf but do not identify as members of the signing Deaf community.
  3. Hard of hearing is the term that Deaf Australia now uses to describe those who have acquired a hearing loss in late childhood or adulthood, or who have a mild or moderate hearing loss. These people usually communicate using speech, lip-reading and residual hearing (often amplified by hearing aids).
  4. Hearing impaired is used by many people as their preferred alternative term for "hard of hearing".

The two main international peak organisations - the World Federation of the Deaf and the International Federation of the Hard of Hearing - have recommended that the terms "Deaf" and "Hard of Hearing" be adopted (1995), and Deaf Australia follows this recommendation. However many Australian people and organisations continue to use the term "hearing impaired" in preference to "hard of hearing".

Using the wrong word can easily offend. Culturally Deaf people do not like the term "hearing impaired", perceiving it as negative and clinical. Hard of hearing people do not like being identified by the terms "Deaf" or "deaf", so it is essential to check terminology with your subjects. Where a large mixed group of people is being referred to, it is appropriate to use more than one term, e.g., "Television subtitles are enjoyed by Deaf and hard of hearing people throughout Australia."

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Information provided by Deaf Australia Inc. Reproduced with permission.

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Disclaimer: The information contained on this website is not intended as a substitute for independent professional advice.

13-May-2022 7:47 AM (AEST)