Characteristics of deaf community subgroups

Who’s Who in the Deaf Community: How to “Define” People with Hearing Loss

Members of the hearing world often group deaf and hard of hearing persons into one category. The frequency with which the term “deaf and hard of hearing” appears in the popular press attests to this conglomeration. In reality, there are several groups included within the broad “deaf and hard of hearing” category, and the various groups have distinctly different characteristics.

The broadest term is hearing impaired, which refers to anyone with a hearing loss.

Hard of hearing people comprise over 90% of all people with hearing loss.

Late deafened people are those who became deafened after acquiring language.

Culturally Deaf people are those who are born deaf or became deafened early in life and rely primarily on sign language for communication.

Oral Deaf people are those who are born deaf or became deafened early in life and rely primarily on oral communications rather than sign language.

“Hearing Impaired” is a Generic Term

This term refers to all people with hearing loss. It includes hard of hearing people, late deafened people, and Culturally Deaf people, without regard for the severity of loss, age of onset, communication methods, use of technology, or cultural affiliation.

Culturally Deaf generally dislike this term, while Hard of Hearing and Late Deafened people generally like it, or even prefer it!

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Hard of Hearing Peopleabout-hearing-loss

The vast majority of people with hearing loss consider themselves hard of hearing. Their hearing loss ranges from mild to profound, but they consider themselves to be hearing people who just don’t hear well. They may have a difficult time admitting that they have a hearing loss and may try to hide it. The vast majority of people who are hard of hearing have not yet taken any action to help them deal with their hearing loss.

Hard of hearing people generally have the following characteristics:

Have some degree of audiological hearing loss, from mild to profound.

Can benefit to some extent from the use of hearing aids and assistive listening devices (ALDs)

Rely primarily on spoken or written English for communication with others

Generally know no or very little sign language

Function in the hearing world in all aspects of their lives (friends, relatives, employment)

Are uninvolved in the Culturally Deaf community.

May or may not have taken steps to deal with their hearing loss (audiological assessment, use of hearing aids, etc.)

Late Deafened People

The dividing line between hard of hearing people and late-deafened people is pretty fuzzy, and there is considerable overlap between the groups. People who consider themselves late-deafened generally have a more severe hearing loss than people who consider themselves hard of hearing, and the hearing loss may have had a greater impact on their life. People who consider themselves late-deafened are more likely than those who consider themselves hard of hearing to have taken steps to deal with their hearing loss.

Late deafened people are generally characterized in the following manner:

Have a severe to profound hearing loss, as audio-logically defined

Usually derive minimal benefit from hearing aids and Assistive Listening Devices (ALDs)

Generally depend on a visual representation of English for communications. This includes written English, speech reading, or some form of sign language learned as a second language.

Function in the hearing world with regard to friends, family, and employment.

Generally do not have strong associations with the Culturally Deaf community

Have generally taken steps to deal with their hearing loss (e.g. audiological testing, hearing aids, etc.)

Culturally Deaf People

Culturally DeafWhen members of the general public think about people who can’t hear, they normally think of Culturally Deaf people. These are people who were born deaf or lost their hearing at a very young age. They may have attended a school for the Deaf, although that is becoming less common as mainstreaming is becoming the norm. They rely on sign language as their first language; most or all of their friends are Deaf.

Because culturally Deaf people never had hearing, they don’t miss it. Many, if offered a magic pill that would make them hearing, would not take it. Losing their Deafness is just as frightening to them as losing their hearing is to hearing people. This is a difficult thing for hearing people to understand.

Note that when the word “Deaf” is capitalized, it refers to Deaf Culture or culturally Deaf people. The uncapitalized word refers to the medical condition of impaired hearing.

Culturally Deaf people generally possess the following characteristics:

Have a severe to profound hearing loss, as audio-logically defined

Generally depend on American Sign Language as their primary means of communication

Generally function primarily in the Deaf world, with regard to friends and social occasions.

Generally do not consider their deafness to be a handicap or an impairment, but a cultural difference.

Oral Deaf People

Oral Deaf people, like those who are culturally Deaf, were born deaf or became deaf at a very young age – before the acquisition of language. Unlike culturally Deaf people, however, they were raised to maximize their use of oral and aural communication. They were typically fitted with hearing aids and encouraged to function as much as possible as a hearing person. They probably attended a mainstream school, rather than a Deaf school.

Some of the characteristics generally associated with Oral Deaf people include:

Have a severe to profound hearing loss, as audio logically defined

Generally depend on a visual representation of English for communications. This includes written English, speech reading, or some form of sign language learned as a second language.

Function in the hearing world with regard to friends, family, and employment.

Generally do not have strong associations with the Culturally Deaf community

Have generally taken steps to deal with their hearing loss (e.g. audiological testing, hearing aids, etc.)