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One of the challenges in the field of deafness is being clear about the language we use to engage in discussions of the topics and issues. It is important to use language that is accurate, respectful of difference and culturally sensitive. The following are all terms that you may encounter. Some terms, although they may have been used in the past, are now considered inappropriate, and even offensive, and should not be used. Other terms may be used differently depending on the context (e.g., in different countries) and it is worthwhile to be aware of these differences to avoid misunderstandings.


This term refers to individuals with any degree of hearing loss. It should be noted that in some contexts (e.g., USA) the preferred term is “deaf or hard of hearing” (DHH).

Deaf (with capital D)

Using the term with a capital “D” refers to those individuals with any degree of hearing loss who identify with and participate in the culture and society Deaf people, and use the natural sign language of this community (e.g., British Sign Language, American Sign Language, Deutsche Gebärdensprache).

deafened or late-deafened

These terms are used to refer to individuals with any degree of hearing loss who have become deaf later in life as a consequence of illness, disease, accident, or aging.

hard of hearing

This term refers to individuals whose hearing loss ranges from mild to moderate and whose typical means of communication is spoken language.

hearing impaired

This is a term which may be used in medical or audiological contexts to refer to hearing loss, and to describe those individuals with mild to moderate hearing losses (equivalent to hard of hearing). It is increasingly less used as the word “impaired” may be viewed as having a negative connotation and the use of the term seen as inappropriate. Please visit this Uptodate website page for medical contexts, and this Oticon Medical website page for audiological contexts.  

person who is deaf

This wording is often referred to as “person first” language, and for a time it was viewed as the acceptable way in which to refer to deaf individuals. More recently views have shifted and the terms “deaf person”, “deaf people” and “deaf individuals” etc. are seen as acceptable and preferred.

hearing handicapped 

This term has been used to refer to the consequence of having a hearing loss consequence of having a hearing loss and is still used in some countries to refer to any individual with a hearing loss. It can be seen as inappropriate as the word “handicap” denotes a negative image of deaf people. Please visit this American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) website page and this Ali Yavar Jung National Institute for the Hearing Handicapped website page for the terms used.


This term was often used in the past to refer to individuals with hearing loss. It is considered inappropriate and offensive and should not be used.

deaf and dumb

In the past this term was used to describe deaf individuals, and schools for the deaf established in the 19th century were often called institutions for the deaf and dumb. Just as is the case with “deaf-mute”, this term should not be used. 

You can find more detail and background on the definitions and used of these terms at the following websites: