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E-Michigan Deaf and Hard of Hearing People.
Hearing People Photograph: Closeup of lower part of a woman's face resting on her hand

For Hearing People

An estimated 28 million, or 10 percent of the population, experiences some degree of hearing loss. Of those with a hearing loss, 1.5 million are deaf, 1.5 million are late deafened and 25 million are hard of hearing. There is little doubt that everyone knows someone who is deaf or hard of hearing. Co–workers, neighbors, and family members may have a hearing loss. Yet, most people know little about hearing loss beyond some vague thought that people with hearing loss do not hear well.

How do we define deaf and hard of hearing?

Well, deaf is relatively easy, right? Wrong! Actually, people can be deaf or Deaf, and it’s important to know the difference.

The National Association of the Deaf (NAD) defines a person who is deaf as someone who is “unable to hear well enough to rely on their hearing and use it as a means of processing information.” Additional information can be found at the NAD site, infotogo/dcc/difference.html.

The term “Deaf” (with a capital ‘D’) refers to a group of people who share a language — American Sign Language (ASL) — and a culture. According to the author of Deaf in America: Voices from a Culture. “The members of this group have inherited their sign language, use it as a primary means of communication among themselves, and hold a set of beliefs about themselves and their connection to the larger society.”

Hard of hearing can be slippery, too. The International Federation of Hard of Hearing People says “hard–of–hearing” means all people who have a hearing loss and whose usual means of communication is by speech. This definition includes those who have become totally deaf after acquisition of speech. For a more in–depth view, see the Self Help for Hard of Hearing People (SHHH) site at

The National Association of the Deaf (NAD) has a different definition for hard–of–hearing. They say the term means those who have some hearing, are able to use it for communication purposes, and who feel reasonably comfortable doing so.

Late deafened? A person who has lost their hearing during adulthood may be considered “late deafened.” In most cases, this is a term used by professionals. Many who are considered “late deafened” in a clinical sense may prefer to be considered hard–of–hearing or simply deaf. Additional information on Late–Deafened can be found under Deaf & Hard of Hearing Section.

DeafBlind refers to someone who has any degree of both vision and hearing loss. People who are DeafBlind may communicate through the entire range of methods that other deaf and hard of hearing people do, depending on the level of residual sight and hearing and the listening situation. Some DeafBlind people use assistive hearing devices. Others prefer sign language. Some DeafBlind people, who have very limited vision and prefer sign language, will rely on tactile signing (using hands to feel the signs as they are made). For additional information for and about people who are DeafBlind click here .

We all prefer to name ourselves, rather than having others label us. It is usually best to wait, allowing a person to make their own statement about their hearing loss. While person–first language is appropriate when speaking of a person with a disability, deaf and hard–of–hearing people may not use this ‘politically correct’ language. It may be a statement of pride and identity when a person says, “I am Deaf.”

Some common signs of hearing loss offered by SHHH:

A person with a hearing loss:

  • Sits in the front row and does not understand much of what is said.
  • Often asks others to repeat what they said.
  • Gives inappropriate responses.
  • Watches a speaker intently to hear.
  • Frequently mispronounces words.
  • Fails to hear someone talking from behind them.
  • Turns up the volume on the TV or radio.
  • Has difficulty on the phone.
  • Has trouble hearing alarms or other signals.

Communication Tips

Communicating with a person with hearing loss may take some special attention, and sometimes a little more time. Click here for suggestions to make communication easier and more enjoyable for everyone. Our tips will be helpful whether you are talking with just one person or in a group, with someone who is Hard or Hearing, Deaf, or even DeafBlind.

A note about sign language:

Individuals who grow up within the Deaf culture, either having deaf family members or attending a deaf school, may embrace American Sign Language as their preferred language. A person who loses hearing later in life, whose family and friends use only spoken language, may feel further isolated by the suggestion that they should learn a language that is foreign to those they love. Rather than suggesting the person with a hearing loss change and learn a new language, it may be more helpful to adopt a patient, adaptive attitude, taking all the time that is needed for effective communication.

What’s next?

How knowledgeable are you about people who are deaf or hard of hearing? Find out with our Hearing Loss Quiz.
Or get some popcorn and watch a Movie about People with Hearing Loss

Click here for Books and Such.

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