What Terminology to Use

Many minority groups have terms that are preferred and some to be avoided (consider Aboriginal/Indigenous communities and members of LGBTQI+ community pronoun usage).

Naturally, the Deaf community – a linguistic minority group – has its own preferences.

Before we discuss terminology, remember to always ask the person with whom you are interacting what THEIR preferred terms are.

In the dDeaf community you see/hear:



Hard of Hearing

Hearing impaired

Hearing loss.

Deaf with a capital ‘D’ often refers to people who are culturally Deaf: they are involved or connected to the Deaf community, use Auslan and are proud to be Deaf.

In a sentence it is written ‘Deaf’, much like you would write any culture’s name – with a capital letter: e.g. I am Australian. I am Deaf.

Hard of Hearing (often written HH or HoH) refers to people who are comfortable in the hearing world, they speak and may or may not use Auslan. They don’t identify as Deaf and may or may not have connections to the Deaf community. 

deaf with a small ‘d’ often refers to all people with a hearing loss whether Deaf or HH.

Hearing impaired, while this term is still used predominantly in medical and educational settings and journals, to some culturally Deaf members this term is offensive. Consider that Deaf proud people don’t view a lack of hearing as an impairment so wouldn’t see their lack of hearing as an issue.

However, some deaf still identify as hearing impaired – likely because this is what they were called growing up. Despite years of lobbying, this term persists against the wishes of many members of the Deaf community.

Hearing loss is for those who might have lost their hearing later in life or through an event/illness, they are no longer able to hear as well as someone with normal hearing.

With my hearing aids on, I can talk and hear (to a degree) and I can speak on the phone (with difficulty and great trepidation – but I can do it). Therefore, some might consider me hard of hearing. But the key thing here is that I identify as Deaf as I am culturally proud, use and love Auslan, and have ties to the Deaf community.

I have a friend who wears hearing aids but she does not – in ANY way shape or form – identify as Deaf. If someone saw her hearing aids and tried to use sign language with her, she’d be horrified.

Generally, the use of Deaf and Hard of Hearing are the most common terms used. This is sometimes written as DHH or Dhh. Sometimes you’ll see dDeaf written as well.

The key takeaway from this blog is this: Never assume. Always ask the individual what term they prefer. Then use it.

Hope you found this handy and keep up your Awesome Auslan!

Disclaimer This information is entirely subjective and based on my personal experience, interpretation and understanding of the subject matter.