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Which is correct... Deaf, deaf, hard of hearing, or hearing impaired?
by Amy Frasu, MA, CI/CT, NIC Advanced, BEI Advanced

Which is correct ? There is no easy answer to this question because it is impossible to create a definite rule that is acceptable to everyone. In most cases, an appropriate label depends on how the person identifies himself or herself, rather than a specific degree of hearing loss. It is preferable to use a specific term - Deaf, deaf, or hard of hearing.

Deaf: (Please note the capital "D".)

  • This is a reference to members of the Deaf community and Deaf culture.
  • They are proud to be Deaf and feel that Deafness is a vital part of their identity, cherished as much as ethnicity, gender, and religious background.
  • People in this cultural group most likely attended residential schools for the deaf, use American Sign Language (ASL), and view Deafness as a difference rather than a disability.
  • Deaf people often feel a cultural bond with one another based on sharing a common language and experience of oppression.
  • Although they most likely recognize ASL as their primary/native language, they may or may not use speech to communicate.

deaf: (Please note that the "d" is lowercase.)

  • This is a general term which encompasses many groups of people, most of whom do not identify themselves as being part of the cultural Deaf community.
  • People who are "deaf" are usually oral deaf people who use speech and residual hearing to communicate instead of sign language.
  • This definition varies in different regions, but it usually is connected to people with a severe or profound hearing loss who choose to associate mainly with hearing people.

hard of hearing:

  • This is usually a term for people with a mild, moderate, or severe hearing loss.
  • Hard of hearing people often use speech as their primary mode of communication, but may be involved in the Deaf community.
  • This group of people usually can transition back and forth between the Deaf and hearing cultures.
  • Hard of hearing people often form advocacy groups of their own, due to their special communication needs which are overlooked due to misconceptions about hearing loss.

hearing impaired:

  • This term is considered highly offensive. Just as "deaf-mute" and "deaf and dumb" are inappropriate labels, "hearing impaired" is an outdated way to collectively label people with any level of hearing loss. It does not account for cultural identity.
  • Elderly people with a hearing loss developed late in life often refer to themselves as being hearing impaired. This is an appropriate exception, but is often over-generalized by the majority of the American public.
  • The use of "hearing impaired" may be considered less blunt by many hearing people, but within the Deaf community, it is an insulting term and a sign of ignorance.


  • This is a label for people who have no hearing loss.
  • "Hearing culture" is the mainstream American culture which is primarily focused on auditory experiences rather than visual experiences.

The original deaflinx.com site was written and authored by Amy Frasu. Deaf Linx is now run by Ericka Wiggins. Here are the Facebook and Twitter pages for Deaf Linx.