Deafness isn’t as black and white as most people think it is. If someone is deaf, they are a part of a wide spectrum of varying levels of deafness. This means that rather than deafness being a matter of not hearing anything at all, deafness affects people differently.
For those without a hearing impairment, it might be safe to assume that being deaf is a disability. Disabilities come in all forms – from physical to mental – which means that the topic of deafness being a disability is almost constantly up for debate.
If someone with a hearing impairment has a hearing aid, does that mean they are or aren’t disabled? If a deaf person hasn’t stunted any cognitive or mental processes, does that mean they are or aren’t disabled?
Here is everything you need to know about deafness and disability!
So…Is Being Deaf A Disability?
The short answer to this question is: there is no short answer. The topic of whether being deaf is a disability is a complex one, but it must be discussed to better understand both worlds of deafness and disability.
The basic answer to this question is that while people who aren’t deaf mostly assume that being deaf is a disability, a lot of deaf people will disagree. Some deaf people will agree. Some deaf people are insulted by the terms “hearing impairment/impaired”, and thus are insulted by being characterized as “disabled”. It’s complex.
Legally speaking, deafness is considered a disability according to laws across the United States and the world. However, these laws are often seen as outdated and ignorant.
Unfortunately, if you came here to get a universal and simple answer to this question, you’re not going to get one. Instead, we are going to discuss the debates around this question.
One of the biggest arguments that disagrees with the statement that deafness is a disability is sign language. Sign language is a way of communicating with movements and expressions that a lot of deaf people rely on around the world.
Some people will argue that because deaf people have their own language (meaning they aren’t affected by the world of hearers and speakers), then they can’t be considered disabled.
However, some will argue that to say deaf people aren’t affected by the hearing/speaking world because of sign language is an ableist approach.
It’s no secret that sign language is a language in its own right. There are between 138 and 300 versions of sign language across the world to accommodate for most languages.
Speaking of a variety of languages, some will argue that deafness is a disability because deaf people who rely on sign language cannot learn another language such as French or Spanish.
However, to counteract this argument, deaf people have the opportunity to learn another sign language.
Here’s where the argument gets even more complicated. Not all deaf people rely solely on sign language as a tool of communication – a lot of deaf people can lip read and some can still have a conversation with someone either with or without the support of a hearing aid.
This is all because deafness is diverse.
Diversity of Deafness
Deafness isn’t just diverse in the way that it can affect everyone – deafness is a spectrum that affects people in different ways. Not every deaf person is completely deaf and reliant on sign language – some have conductive hearing loss, some have sensorineural hearing loss, and some have mixed hearing loss.
The Term “Hearing Impairment”
There’s an interesting debate around the terms “hearing impaired” and “hearing impairment”. For those who aren’t deaf, these terms might seem like a softer version of saying “deaf” or “deafness”. The terms might also seemingly summarize the spectrum of deafness.
However, a lot of deaf people will disagree. While these terms have been used for decades, the implication that “impairment” means “broken” or “unfixable” can often make deaf people feel small and “broken”.
Likewise, some deaf people might be insulted by the term “disability” – not because they are offended and don’t want to be considered disabled, but because they don’t define their deafness as a disability.
As we have explained, deafness is a spectrum, wherein a lot of deaf people don’t feel like their movements and actions are affected by their deafness.
Another reason why some deaf people are offended by these terms is because to say someone has a hearing impairment suggests that they have something broken that needs fixing.
A lot of deaf people are comfortable and take pride in their deafness, so to assume that they need their deafness fixed is insulting to the individual. They might say it’s the same argument as saying someone with bad eyesight should get laser surgery – why fix something that isn’t actually broken?
On the other hand, some deaf people won’t be offended by the terms “hearing impairment” or “disability”. Instead, they might take these terms with pride. They might even feel like the variation of their deafness constitutes counting as a disability, because their deafness affects their way of life.
Plus, some people might have other health issues alongside deafness that means they are considered a disabled person.
With this in mind, it is safe to argue that it all depends on the individual. While some deaf people might not consider themselves disabled, others might be legally disabled due to the level of their deafness or other contributing health problems.
If you came here to get a quick answer to the question about whether being deaf is a disability, then you might be slightly disappointed to know that there isn’t a definitive answer. Hopefully, you’ve finished this article with a new perspective on deafness and disability.
To put it simply, while some hearing people might assume that deafness is considered a disability because of the laws in certain areas, some deaf people will disagree as their deafness doesn’t affect their daily lives. It all depends on the individual – so allow your deaf friends and family to define themselves as disabled or not!