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What is Deafness?

Many words and expressions  have been used over the years to describe Deafness but most have no place in modern society, for example, ‘deaf and dumb’ and ‘hearing impaired’.

To understand the different types of deafness, it’s helpful to know about the various classifications.

The word ‘deaf’ is an umbrella term used to describe people with all degrees of deafness.

For profoundly Deaf people in the UK, British Sign Language (BSL) is usually their first or preferred language.  The capital ‘D’ is not a typing error – it is used to denote the pride that people have in their deafness.   BSL users belong to a Deaf community that is very proud of its language, heritage and culture.  Deaf people consider themselves a linguistic minority and not disabled; to the Deaf community, deafness is not a problem that needs to be fixed.

BSL has its own grammar and sentence structure and is not a signed equivalent of English. For the majority of Deaf people in the UK, English is a second or third language.

“All deaf people, regardless of whether they are proud members of a culturally rich community, or an older person who has lost hearing with age, experience barriers when it comes to accessing communication”

The third term is something many people may not know – deafened. This is used to describe people who become severely or profoundly deaf after learning to speak, and often happens as a result of illness or an accident. Becoming deafened in adult life is a life-changing event with far-reaching consequences, not only for the deafened person, but also for their friends and family.

The final term covered here is, Deafblind.  Deafblindness is, as the name would suggest, a combination of sight and hearing loss.

Most Deafblind people have some residual hearing or sight but all will experience barriers in terms of access to communication and services.

All deaf people, regardless of whether they are proud members of a culturally rich community, or an older person who has lost hearing with age, experience the same barriers when it comes to accessing communication.  Unless you see a hearing aid or until a Deaf person raises their hands to speak, Deafness can be invisible. If you are deaf everyday activities can be a real challenge; getting services you want or need sometimes feels impossible.

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