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 (for example, pronoun usage).

Naturally, the Deaf community – a linguistics minority group – experience the same.

There are certain terms that can be used (misused?) in relation to d/Deaf community and topics.

I will discuss the terms below, but will state upfront, that ultimately, always ask the person you are talking to what THEIR preferred terms are for them. This is personal and unique to each individual.

The terms are:

  • Deaf
  • deaf
  • Hard of Hearing
  • Hearing impaired
  • Hearing loss.

Deaf with a capital ‘D’ often refers to people who are culturally Deaf: they are connected to the Deaf community, use Auslan and can be proud to be Deaf. It is written Deaf in a sentence, much like you would write about any culture – with a capital letter: 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 often do not have connections to the Deaf community. 

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

Hearing impaired, this is a term still predominantly used in medical and educational settings and journals. To some Deaf, this term is offensive (considering that Deaf proud don’t view that lack of hearing as an impairment and don’t wish to be viewed as such). However, some deaf still identify as hearing impaired (possibly because this is what they were referred to when growing up). Hence why it’s important to ask individuals what term they prefer.

Hearing loss is for those who might have lost their hearing later in life or through an event/illness.

I can talk and hear (with my hearing aids on and only 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 (culturally proud, use and love Auslan, ties to the Deaf community).

I have a friend who wears a hearing aid 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 quite offended.

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