You've probably seen numerous terms used to describe a person with hearing loss, including Deaf with an uppercase d, deaf with a lowercase d and hard of hearing. But what do they all mean and how are they different? Read on to find out the difference between Deaf, deaf and hard of hearing.
Deaf (uppercase D)
The "uppercase D" Deaf is used to describe people who identify as culturally Deaf and are actively engaged with the Deaf community. Deaf with a capital D indicates a cultural identity for people with hearing loss who share a common culture and have a shared sign language.
People who identify as Deaf are often born deaf and sometimes also have other family members who are deaf. However, there are many people who may have hearing parents or were not born deaf but lost their hearing later in life and have become part of the Deaf community. Deaf people often prefer to use sign language and it may be their first language. Deaf people have often attended schools and programs for the deaf where they have been able to immerse themselves in Deaf culture. People who are Deaf take great pride in their Deaf identity.
deaf (lowercase d)
The "lowercase d" deaf simply refers to the medical condition of having hearing loss. People who identify as deaf with a lowercase d often don't have a strong connection to the Deaf community and most likely do not use sign language, preferring to communicate orally.
There are a variety of reasons why a person identifies as deaf with a lowercase d. For instance, they may have been born to hearing parents and grown up in the hearing world with little or no exposure to the Deaf community.
Hard of Hearing
Hard of hearing is a widely-accepted term to describe someone with mild to moderate hearing loss. A person who is hard of hearing often does not use sign language as their first or preferred language. This may be due to them never having the opportunity to learn a sign language or preferring not to.
Someone with mild to moderate hearing loss may identify as Deaf and be involved in Deaf culture and the Deaf community. Likewise, someone who has a very small amount or no hearing may like to identify as hard of hearing, rather than deaf or Deaf. Ultimately, each individual person has their own preferred term for how they identify themselves. If you're unsure about how someone identifies themselves, just ask!
Hearing impaired is another commonly used term to describe a person with hearing loss, but many people in the Deaf and hard-of-hearing communities find the term offensive. This is because of the implication it holds of being "impaired". However, there are people with hearing loss who are comfortable with this term and self-identify as hearing impaired. However, to be on the safe side, it's best to avoid using this term when referring to someone else.