Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing (HOH), which are you?


While no one can tell you what your identity is, I find many deaf adults and teens facing the challenges of what to call themselves to fit into Deaf culture/world. For instance, these deaf, they often wonder is there a concrete definition of Deaf, or HOH? For some yes, they would indeed believe there is a definitive answer, but for others it is not so simple.

Let's dive into how the community as a whole views the Deaf identity. Firstly, it is important to explain the difference in writing of Deaf with a capital "d" vs. the deaf with a lower-cased "d". The capital "D" Deaf culture, is defined by the capitalization. This is the culture that promotes American Sign Language, and pride in one-self of their Deafhood. This encompasses the Deaf community as well as the HOH community. The lower-cased 'd' denotes the physical capacity to hear. This is where you will see words that might pop up as deafness, or deaf. Outside of the Deaf community, you will rarely see these differences spoken or referred to.

In the past, the Deaf community has had somewhat of a consensus as to what makes a person deaf vs. Hard-of-hearing. For much of my life, it has been drilled into me that the HOH are capable of hearing sound, using hearing aids, and other devices to aid with hearing. However, increasingly the community has seen the same conflict in those who state they have Deaf identities despite these "hearing" devices. Does this make their identity less valid? Moreover, does this make them HOH, or Deaf? How are they seen?

Our community is changing, rapidly. As Deaf technology has come to the forefront of our daily lives, we are seeing a broader and more inclusive term in the word "deaf" vs. HOH. To me personally, I feel that any amount of speech that cannot be understood would constitute a Deaf identity. There are folks who would adamantly disagree with me, and there are folks who would see it as I do.

It is my feeling that the identity of another cannot be rigidly assigned to anyone. The definitions of what make an identity must remain somewhat flexible; too rigid of a definition requires a strict adherence to a predetermined definition, and that definition cannot be broadly applied to just anyone, it must be carefully considered of that person's Deafhood, as well.

Most deaf individuals have the capacity to hear some sort of sound. The misnomer of the word "deaf" seems to indicate the profound deafness category, and total lack of hearing senses that begets a rigid standard of which to adhere. See, most deaf adults are not profoundly deaf. In fact, less than 1% of deaf are actually profoundly deaf. To be profoundly deaf, one must have hearing that cannot detect sound before a set number of decibels. Due to this definition, most Deaf could be recategorized as simply Hard of Hearing, if we are to assume this definition. Again, it brings us back to the "set of standards" that the Deaf community is moving away from.

As a Deaf woman, I can hear a range of tone and sound, albeit loudly, and I cannot process or understand most speech. This means lip-reading is excessively difficult, and speech to me is nearly an impossibility, even with hearing aids. However, I can hear some sounds, and at a loud volume I can experience music. This in no way takes away from my Deafhood. As I should explain, this is a common experience amongst the deaf; the feeling of which side of the fence am I on?

In my opinion, the identity of the individual should be left to them to decide for themselves. Who has the right to say sound of any sort is an experience of being hearing, whereas the absence of complete sound is deaf? This rigid definition is old and tiresome and doesn't fit with the technology that we currently have. If any level of hearing is preventing you from a hearing experience, then in my opinion you are deaf.

The way I view the hard-of-hearing category is those of people who are more accustomed and used to hearing society, fitting-in and trying to "make it", and less involved with the Deaf community and Deaf social events. I feel that they may see things from a hearing perspective, or world, and maybe they have not yet come to terms with their inner deafness. This in no way implies that I see them identifying incorrectly, or wrongly. Afterall, they have just as many reasons for their identity as I do mine. Not one's reason is more valid than another, of course. Certainly, we can all agree that more deaf are needed in our community, regardless of how they self-identify.

In a world of changing identities, it is your identity which should be left to your discretion, and should never be something you feel you need to "defend". In fact, the more I gaze into our future world as a Deaf community, the more I see the beautiful world we are all creating with owning our identities, and our deafness.

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