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Describing deafness

Please install the Flash Plugin Being deaf or hard of hearing can mean very different things to different people.

There are various different ways to describe types of hearing loss. This section explains what we mean by the different terms we use.

Some people feel comfortable with particular words to describe their own deafness. They might feel quite strongly about terms they do not like being used.

Terms used by Action on Hearing Loss

These are some of the terms we use to describe deafness...

People who are deaf

We use the term people who are deaf in a general way when we are talking about people with all degrees of hearing loss.

People who are hard of hearing

We use the term hard of hearing to describe people with mild to severe hearing loss. We quite often use it to describe people who have lost their hearing gradually.

People who are deafened

People who were born hearing and became severely or profoundly deaf after learning to speak are often described as deafened. This can happen either suddenly or gradually.

People who are deafblind

Many people who are deafblind have some hearing and vision. Others will be totally deaf and totally blind.
For information see our factsheet Deafblindness(PDF 187kb, opens new window) or visit the Sense website(external link, opens in new browser window).

The Deaf community

Many deaf people whose first or preferred language is British Sign Language (BSL) consider themselves part of the Deaf community. They may describe themselves as Deaf with a capital D to emphasise their Deaf identity.

Definitions of deafness

Your level of deafness – mild, moderate, severe or profound – is defined according to the quietest sound, measured in decibels, that you can hear.

The quietest sounds people with mild deafness can hear are 25-39 decibels, while it's 40-69 decibels for people with moderate deafness, 70-94 decibels for people who are severely deaf and more than 95 decibels for those who are profoundly deaf.

If you have mild deafness you will find it difficult following speech in noisy situations. If you're moderately deaf you may need to use hearing aids. You will probably rely on lipreading if you’re severely deaf, even if you wear hearing aids, and BSL may be your first or preferred language. BSL is likely to be your first or preferred language if you are profoundly deaf.

For more facts and figures on deafness and hearing loss visit the number crunching page.

Research breakthrough. Human stem cells restore hearing.