Categorizing and the labeling of Deaf people have gained much debate over the years. “Deaf/Mute”, “Deaf and Dumb”, and “imbeciles” are all antiquated terms that should be forever erased from Deaf history.

Unfortunately, some continue to use such denunciation. What the Deaf call themselves tends to be much different than what hearing people call them. Hearing people like to use terms that seem less offensive or “politically correct”. They think by calling a Deaf person “hearing impaired”, it will essentially reduce the harshness level of calling someone “Deaf”. In this instance, an attempt to be politically correct in identifying someone who is deaf is not necessarily acceptable in Deaf culture. Deaf people take great pride in straightforwardness. Coyness and beating around the bush is infrequent within the Deaf Community. Tactfully done, they tell it the way they see it and want it reciprocated in the same manner. The following labels share the extent of hearing loss, the preferred method of communication, and how one would identify themselves within the Deaf Community. Notice “deaf” was mentioned twice. Below highlights each mode of deafness for better understanding.


Also known as “Big D” Deaf refers to people who are involved in the culture of deafness and share the values, behaviors, and language (ASL) of that culture (read Values of Deaf Culture articles for more information). It is possible to be Deaf/deaf and Deaf/HH. A person who is Deaf/deaf values Deafness as a culture and is in full support. The individual lives life fully immersed in a Deaf World. They may choose to marry a Deaf mate, socialize and work with Deaf individuals, worship alongside those who are Deaf, and some even devote their own personal time to providing and developing ASL-resources for the outside community.

There are hearing individuals who are considered “Deaf”. They have cherished the values of the culture and adopted the rules of behaviors as their own. Many of which are complete advocates and allies for the Deaf Community and share as much knowledge as possible to any outside members willing to learn about the Community.


“Little d” deaf is more medically related in terms of hearing loss. A person who is profoundly deaf will use Sign Language to communicate. This is what medical professionals, state and government facilities ( hospitals, educational system, etc.) will use “Hearing Impaired” in replace of this actual term for notation purposes and to clearly identify a disability. 

It has been known for “Little d” deaf people to not associate with Deaf Culture. This may result from growing up in a hearing family, where deafness was frowned upon and resented. There are deaf people (more so their parents) who refused to learn ASL in fear of appearing different from the majority, which has left many delayed in language acquisition and social awkwardness. Cochlear implants and hearing aids are both popular devices deaf individuals striving to hear despite having an extensive hearing loss, therefore “deaf”.

Hard of Hearing

Hard of Hearing (HOH or HH) people vary with hearing loss. There are some hard of hearing individuals who are deaf in one ear but may have full audibility in their other. Generally, people who are hard of hearing wear hearing aids to assist with high pitch sound for emergency purposes. Many tend to mistake the use of hearing aids as corrective measures, but it is simply used to amplify frequency.

Cochlear implants are also quite often seen on Hard of Hearing individuals, at which they can hear sounds and possibly even voices quite well. In fact, if introduced early enough, children are fully capable of hearing sounds well enough to start speaking on their own. ASL should still be used to help with acquisition of the English language. Audiologists and speech-language pathologists are typically involved in the hard of hearing individual’s life to encourage correct pronunciations and proper English lexical skills. Most hard of hearing people don’t mind the label of “Deaf”; they embrace it! They may have assistive listening devices, but they also choose to live in a totally Deaf World.


As previously mentioned, “Big D” Deaf is a cultural reference. Therefore, those who are Deaf/Oral (D/O) are esthetically without hearing, culturally recognizes Deafness, and were raised within a hearing family emphasizing speech as important. Many Deaf/Orals are able to lipread or visually comprehend your oral speech. Most Deaf/Orals become deaf later in life, or after they have acquired the spoken English language (or any spoken language), thus the reasoning for this label. You may come in contact with those Deaf Oral individuals whose speech is clear enough to assume they are hearing. Many use ASL as their preferred receptive language but chooses to verbalize their responses or replies.


Another form of Deafness is often related to that of Helen Keller, who was born deaf and blind. Those who are deaf and blind are taught ASL and braille; because ASL is a visual language, ASL is taught or use as tactile. Tactile signing is the use of ASL by means of the other sense: touch. This is truly an amazing way to communicate with Deaf/Blind individuals. There are certain cues and touches on the back and legs that mean certain feelings such as smiling, laughing, or crying. It is truly remarkable to know that interaction and communication are still possible despite the absence of two senses.


CODA- Child of Deaf Adults or SODA- Sibling of Deaf Adults basically means that two Deaf Adults (or one) produced hearing children and used their first language, ASL, to communicate with their children prior to the adoption of a spoken language. SODA refers to growing up with a Deaf sibling and using Sign Language to communicate with them. CODAs and SODAs naturally learn ASL as their first language and acquire English or spoken language, as their second.

Most CODA/SODAs grow up as Deaf advocates or ASL interpreters. Depending on their Deaf parents’ or siblings’ involvement and acceptance of Deaf culture, CODA/SODAs are likely considered to be “Big D” Deaf if they choose to accept the culture’s values and the rules of behaviors as their own.


The label comes from growing up in a hearing world: no hereditary deafness, spoken language is your primary and preferred method of communication; no prior knowledge of Deafness or Sign Language.

Labeling the Deaf Community as “hearing impaired” is not culturally acceptable. They do not feel as though they need to be fixed or cured of this so-called “impairment”. There are plenty of Deaf lawyers, doctors, nurses, police officers, and government personnel who can attest to this notion. The above briefly guides us on the variety of hearing calibers used within the Deaf Community. Use this article as an introduction to research further on which “Deaf” you may be.