When it comes to terminology, it's impossible to create a definitive rule that is acceptable to everyone. In most cases, an appropriate label depends on how the person identifies him/herself, rather than a specific degree of hearing loss. It is preferable to use a specific term - Deaf, deaf, or hard of hearing.
Deaf (with a 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 oppression.
- Although they most likely recognize ASL as their primary/native language, they may or may not use speech to communicate.
deaf (with a lowercase "d")
- This is a general term which encompasses many groups of people, most of whom do not identify themselves as being part of the culturally 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 severe or profound hearing loss who choose to associate mainly with hearing people.
Hard of Hearing
- This is usually a term for people with 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.
- 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 Just as "deaf-mute" and "deaf and dumb" are inappropriate labels, "hearing impaired" is an outdated way to collectively label people with any level of hearing loss.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.
- 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 can be 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.