If deaf people are to feel welcome, you need to use language that is acceptable. The challenge is that different people have different views about what is or isn’t acceptable and a lot depends on who is using particular words.

Try this …

Click each of the three categories below to find out more about each definition.

Be aware of the language choices available, those that are deemed to be most appropriate, whilst still remembering that the specific terminology you use may be open to misunderstanding.

When you meet a group or individual for the first time, observe what terms they use themselves and, if possible, ask what terminology is preferred so that you can agree a common vocabulary.

Generally accepted …

Deaf, deafened and hard of hearing people

D/deaf people

Hard of hearing people

Using deaf with a lower case ‘d’ usually refers to the full, broad range of people who have some level of deafness

Using Deaf with a capital ‘D’ usually refers to Deaf people who are BSL users and who identify as part of the Deaf community

Sign language user

Caption user or attender of captioned performances are both positive terms as they place emphasis on the services required by someone rather than on their level of hearing loss.

Don’t use …

The deaf / The hard of hearing … avoid terms that lump people together

Deaf and dumb and deaf mute are both terms that would be viewed as insulting

Many deaf, deafened and hard of hearing people do not view themselves as disabled so avoid using this term in association with information about captioned performances

Suffers from…

Afflicted with…

The Deaf community tends not to use ‘hearing impaired’ or ‘hearing loss’ though both these terms are often used by older deaf people who have an acquired hearing difficulty – this would be an example of using the right terminology for the group or individual you are communicating with.

How positive is your language?

  • Do you ‘accept Text Relay calls’ or ‘welcome’ them?
  • Are ‘assistance dogs allowed’ or ‘welcomed’?
  • Do you just ‘offer’ captioned performances or are you ‘pleased to be able to …’?
  • Is there a named person who is ‘keen to receive feedback’?

Social or medical?

The social model of disability is a useful tool in considering your policies and procedures, including language choices.

Disability models provide a framework for communicating and understanding the way people with impairments view disability. The social model was developed by disabled people and draws an important distinction between ‘having an impairment’ and ‘being disabled’. The impairment, medical condition or individual’s body is not the barrier to inclusion. It is the way society is structured, operates or views the world that creates the barriers.

Applying this to communication means thinking about the barrier or the solution to that barrier rather than the individual ‘problem’. For example:

  • Do you have any specific access requirements?
  • Do you have any specific communication needs?
  • Would the loop or hearing enhancement headset be useful to you?
  • Are you here for the captioned performance? Will you be using the captions?

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