How Should I Describe Myself?

How People With Hearing Loss Self-Identify

WRITTEN BY

Gael Hannan

Guest Author

07 March 2019

Do you want to stir up a hornet’s nest? On social media, ask people with hearing loss what term they use to self-identify. Then sit back and enjoy the fireworks.

Deaf

Hard of hearing. Hearing impaired. Deaf. A little deaf. Oral deaf. Deafened. Late-deafened. Hearing loss. Differently-hearing. Hearing aid user. Implant recipient.

People who hear well are referred to as “hearing people” by those of us who can’t, and we appreciate their confusion when trying to understand the difference between having a hearing loss and being deaf, because it’s not their experience.

How we self-identify goes beyond the degree and type of our hearing loss, as described in audiological or medical terms (mild, profound, sensorineural, 60db loss, etc.).

Our identity also relates to our language of choice, spoken or signed, and the community with which we are most comfortable. And many people with hearing loss do not identify with any particular community.

Subtle shades of hearing-loss terminology

The fact is that there’s no single right answer – each of us is free to choose the term we feel most comfortable with. But it’s helpful to understand the overlapping and subtle shades of meaning of the different terms.

  • Hard of hearing: Used to describe a person with partial hearing loss, whose main language is the spoken one, and who can be helped by hearing aids and other assistive devices. This term is moving out of use, as younger people with hearing loss see this as a term used by old people.
  • Hearing impaired: Same description as above and used by many hearing care professionals. This term is generally disliked by the Deaf community and many hearing loss advocates because the term impaired as a negative connotation.
  • Deaf (Big D): People who identify with Deaf Culture use sign language as their main means of communication. They celebrate their deafness and do not use the term ‘hearing loss’ because they haven’t lost anything.
  • deaf (small d): People who have lost most, if not all, of their residual hearing may refer to themselves as deaf. If deaf from childhood, they may have been taught to communicate by the spoken word. Another term is oral deaf.
  • Deafened or late-deafened: A person who grew up hearing or with partial hearing loss who loses all residual hearing at some point after speech acquisition, usually as adults. May benefit from some amplification and cochlear implants,
  • Hearing loss: As in “I have hearing loss,” a term now commonly used.
  • Differently-hearing: Oh, spare me!
  • Hearing aid or cochlear implant user: Some people prefer skip the audiological description and go straight to the technology they use.
  • HoH: This acronym for ‘hard of hearing’ is often used when writing about hearing loss. I have taken it one step further in my presentations and tell people that I’m a ho(h).

Many people use more than one term. I detest the term ‘hard of hearing’ but it’s the main term I used growing up. I may still use it on occasion, but my go-to term is “I have hearing loss” or “I have a severe hearing loss,” and I may throw in that I use both a hearing aid and cochlear implant.

It’s your hearing loss

It doesn’t matter what term you use, because it’s your hearing loss, not anyone else’s. What’s important is that you do identify to others as having hearing loss, regardless of the term you use.

The next, even more important, step is letting others know what you need – speaking up or facing you, etc. That’s the really important stuff that keeps you connected and communicating.

Gael Hannan

Gael Hannan is a writer, actor and public speaker who grew up with a progressive hearing loss that is now severe-to-profound. She is the author of The Way I Hear It and a contributor at Hearing Health & Technology Matters.