Deaf Awareness: Listen Up!

There is an estimated demographic of 36 million deaf and hard of hearing in the United States. Of this large number, only a few million are “deaf” and the rest are “hard of hearing”. Another confusing statistic is the fact that some “deaf” people are actually “hard of hearing” and some “deaf” people are actually “hard of hearing”.

In previous years, the terms “deaf” and “hard of hearing” were used as subcategories of the term “hearing impaired”. During this time, it was used as a generic term that was applicable to anyone with some degree of hearing loss. However, some deaf people declined to describe their hearing status as “impaired” because they believed that the term also implied that the person was “impaired”. Such degrading terms can actually lead to depression and anxiety in deaf people. Therefore this generic label has been deleted.

The community of the deaf and hard of hearing is very different and is very different in terms of cause and degree of hearing loss, age at the beginning, educational background, communication methods and how they think about their hearing loss. How a person “identifies” in relation to their hearing loss is personal and may reflect their identification with their relationship with the deaf community or just how their hearing loss affects their ability to communicate. They can either be deaf, deaf (with a capital letter “D”) or hard of hearing.

Interestingly, the lowercase letter “deaf” is used when referring to the audiological state of non-hearing, while the capital letter “deaf” is used to refer to a specific group of people who speak a common language such as ASL (American Sign Language) and culture. The members of this group have inherited their sign language, used it as a primary means of communication among themselves, and expressed a number of beliefs and their connection to larger society. They differ from those who lose their hearing due to illness, trauma or age. Although these people share the condition of not hearing, they have no access to the knowledge, beliefs, and practices that make up the culture of deaf people.

In general, the term “deaf” refers to those who are unable to hear well enough to rely on their hearing and use it as a means of processing information . On the other hand, the term “hard of hearing” refers to those who have hearing, can use it for communication purposes and feel reasonably comfortable. From an audiological point of view, a hearing impaired person can have mild to moderate hearing loss.

To understand hearing loss, it is important to understand how normal hearing takes place. There are two different ways in which sound waves create the feeling of hearing: air conduction and bone conduction.

With air conduction, sound waves move through the air in the outer ear canal (the “ear canal” in between), the outside air and the eardrum). The sound waves hit the eardrum (eardrum) and cause the eardrum to move. Bone conduction hearing occurs when a sound wave or other source of vibration vibrates the bones of the skull. These vibrations are transmitted to the fluid surrounding the cochlea and lead to hearing results. Fortunately, there are many treatments for hearing loss. People with conductive hearing loss can have their middle ear reconstructed by an ear, nose and throat specialist. Hearing aids are effective and well tolerated for people with conductive hearing loss. People who are profoundly deaf can benefit from a cochlear implant.

For people with hearing loss, it is a question of deciding whether to treat it as an audiological perspective or as a cultural lifestyle. It is about choices, level of comfort, communication mode and acceptance of hearing loss. Regardless of the decision, there are support groups and organizations that represent all deaf and hard of hearing Americans, and advocacy that everyone can benefit from, regardless of the type of hearing loss and background.

Photos provided by Pexels

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