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Deaf or Hard of Hearing? Understanding the Nuances of Identity and Terminology

Do you know the differences between the terms “Deaf” and “hard of hearing”? Learn about the differences between Deaf culture and the hard of hearing community and how to respect each person’s right to define their own disability.

Deaf (with a capital D) culture is a vibrant community with a common language, culture, and history. However, not everyone who is deaf identifies with Deaf culture, and not everyone who is hard of hearing identifies as deaf. The terminology used to describe people who are deaf or hard of hearing can be a sensitive and complex issue, and it's important to understand the nuances involved.

Deaf Culture and the Capital D

Deaf culture is a community of individuals who share a common language, American Sign Language (ASL) in the USA, and a shared identity as members of a linguistic and cultural minority. In this community, being Deaf (with a capital D) is a source of pride and identity, not a disability.

For people who identify with Deaf culture, the term "Deaf" is a positive and affirming label. It signals a sense of belonging and identity within the Deaf community and a shared language and culture experience. In this context, the term "deaf" with a lowercase "d" is often seen as a medical label that focuses on a person's hearing loss rather than their identity as a member of a cultural community.

Hard of Hearing

Not everyone who is deaf or has hearing loss identifies with Deaf culture, and some people may prefer to use the term "hard of hearing" to describe themselves. This term is often used to describe people who have some degree of hearing loss but can still hear some sounds and may use hearing aids or other assistive devices to communicate.

For some people who are hard of hearing, the term "deaf" may feel inaccurate or not reflective of their experience. They may feel that the term "hard of hearing" better captures the nuances of their hearing loss and allows them to define their disability in an accurate and empowering way.

Language and Empowerment

Ultimately, the choice of terminology is up to the individual, and it's important to respect each person's right to define their own disability. Some people may prefer to use the term "Deaf" with a capital D, while others may prefer "deaf" with a lowercase "d" or "hard of hearing." It's important to respect each person's right to choose the terminology that feels right for them.

If you are in an online conversation and see someone describe themselves as deaf, Deaf, or hard of hearing, do NOT attempt to correct them. Instead, recognize that their choice of language is a direct reflection of their lived experience. Just sit back, take in the conversation, and see what you can learn about their point of view. 

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