What Does Deaf Mean?

If you have ever heard the word deaf, you might be left wondering exactly what it means. There are lots of different words and terminology when it comes to the deaf and hard of hearing community, and being aware of what they mean can only be a good thing.

Even though deafness is something that affects millions of people worldwide, it is still not something that is as widely known about as it should be. This is why it is really important to be aware of what the word deaf actually means, so we can all work towards helping the deaf community by spreading awareness.

In this article, we are going to talk about the word deaf, what it means, and everything else that you need to know. We are also going to take a quick look at some other terminology that is used by those that are either deaf or hard of hearing, so you can find out what it all means.

What Does Deaf Mean?

The term dead is actually referring to a hearing loss that is so severe that there is very little or no functional hearing. 

What is the Difference between Deaf and deaf?

The word deaf is often used to describe or identify anyone that has a severe hearing problem. It is also sometimes used to refer to people that are severely hard of hearing too. The word Deaf, with a capital D, is used to refer to people that have been deaf for all of their lives, or since before they started to learn to talk. They are prelingually deaf.

This is a really important distinction, as Deaf people tend to communicate in sign language as their first language. For the majority of Deaf people, English is a second language, and understanding complicated messages in English can be difficult. There is a strong and close Deaf community within its own culture and sense of identity, based on a shared language.

The Main Types of Deafness

Sensorineural deafness or nerve deafness – a hearing loss in the inner ear. This usually means that the cochlea isn’t working effectively. Sensorineural deafness is permanent.

Conductive deafness –  When sound can’t pass efficiently through the outer and middle ear into the inner ear. This is often caused by blockages such as wax in the outer ear, or fluid in the middle ear. Conductive deafness is usually temporary, but it can be permanent in some cases.

Mixed deafness – It is possible to have a combination of both sensorineural and conductive deafness, which is known as mixed deafness. One example of mixed deafness is when someone has glue ear as well as sensorineural deafness.

Something else that you might be interested to learn is that deafness in only one ear is called  unilateral deafness, and this can also be referred to as one-sided hearing loss or single sided deafness. Interestingly, there are very few deaf children that have no useful hearing. The majority of deaf children can hear some sounds at certain frequencies and loudness.

The Difference Between Deaf and Hard of Hearing

In medical terms, hearing loss is defined by the results of a hearing test. There are different levels that have been set to classify someone as either deaf or hard of hearing.

A complete hearing test will examine how loud sounds across the frequency range have to be in order for you to be able to detect them. It will also determine how well you are able to understand speech.

If you are not able to detect sounds that are quieter than 90 decibels hearing level, then you would be considered to have a profound hearing loss for those frequencies. If the average of the frequencies at 500Hz, 1000Hz, and 2000 Hz is 90dB or higher, the person is considered deaf. Someone that is hard of hearing can have a range of hearing loss from mild to severe.

Other Terms and Definitions

Now that you know exactly what the word deaf means, and how it is different from some other terms, you might be interested to learn about certain other terminology that is often used when it comes to the subject of hearing loss.

Hard of Hearing

There are some people that can hear quite well, but that need a little more volume or clarity. It could be that they miss the occasional word, and a hearing aid could be beneficial in this instance.

These people are often referred to as hard of hearing. Medically, they are sometimes also referred to as hearing impaired. This is considered to be a more acceptable word than deaf.


If a person is deafened, they have suddenly lost their hearing in adulthood. This could be the result of an injury or illness.

Partially Hearing or Deaf

Someone that is partially hearing would have quite a lot of useful hearing, but they will still require the use of a hearing aid or a cochlear implant in order to help them to hear well. These people are not completely deaf, only partially so.

Profoundly or Severely Deaf

These are two terms that are often used to describe people that are unable to understand either speech or sounds by listening. The latest cochlear implants are constantly changing, which means that some children that are profoundly or partially deaf are now able to hear speech sounds, so these terms are not as commonly used now as they used to be.

Can Deaf People Speak?

Yes, it is possible for a deaf person to speak, although there are also deaf people that do not speak. It will all depend on personal preference, and whether they have always been deaf or not. A variety of educational methods can be used to teach deaf individuals how to talk.

What Does It Mean When Someone Says They Are Deaf?

When someone says that they are deaf, it means that they cannot understand speech through hearing, even when sound is amplified. An individual with profound deafness is unable to hear anything at all.