Deaf-initions: terminology

Terms that relate to Being Deaf and to those people who have a Deaf gain (the opposite of "hearing loss"). The terms mean different things to different societies: hearing society and Deaf society.

Aside from this video which deconstructs terms, below are the norms of definition.

Deaf (spelled with a capital D).

Those, regardless of various levels of hearing loss, who:

a) speak American Sign Language (ASL) as a cherished, primary language

b) are proud members of the Deaf community who respect and adhere to the beliefs, norms, values and expectations of that community

b) are entrenched in the Deaf culture and adhere to Deaf cultural norms, traditions, beliefs, values and ways of being

d) have a strong, positive Deaf-identity meaning they a) value their personal existence (their Deafhood - see below), b) value the Deaf Community, c) value the Deaf culture (past, present and future), and d) value ASL and all things related to the above a-d items.


The experience and process of being Deaf. Deafhood is sometimes referred to as the 'life journey' of a deaf person. Therefore, the experience of Deafhood varies from person to person.

Deafhood also refers to the collective experience (past, present and future) of members of the Deaf community.

The term affirms and underscores the ideas that being Deaf has great value for Deaf individuals, for the Deaf community and for society as a whole.

Those who embrace and celebrate their Deafhood see no reason for medical intervention or a medical 'fix' for their hearing loss. They do not view their limited hearing as a 'problem' or as a 'medical concern' that needs attention.

The positive nature of Deafhood helps dispel the myth held by many hearing people that Deaf people have a 'medical problem' that needs to be 'medically monitored' 'improved-upon,' or 'cured.'

On the contrary, the term 'Deafhood' underscores that the vast majority of Deaf people are content and pleased to be Deaf and proud to be members of their treasured Deaf Community and Deaf culture.

For more information on Deafhood, see Deafhood Foundation; Understanding Deaf Culture: In Search of Deafhood by Paddy Ladd.


The opposite of hearing loss. It's something that people with hearing ability experience a loss of being Deaf that comes with a package of benefits.

deaf (spelled with a lower-case d)

The generic term "deaf" refers to an audiological, the physical condition of hearing. This inclusive term refers to all people who are Deaf and deaf regardless their primary language, culture, community affiliation, age-of-onset of hearing loss etc.

The term doesn't define the Deaf culture, the Deaf community, Deafhood or anything related.

Bilingual Deaf

The term Bilingual Deaf is used to refer to those who are bilingual (skilled with English and ASL) and bi-cultural meaning they can operate effectively in both the Deaf and hearing cultures and communities.

Some bilingual Deaf people move back and forth (with varying degrees of success) between the two cultures and communities.

Deaf and Hard of Hearing

This appropriate term is a common use in services provided for Deaf and hard of hearing people.

hard of hearing

This term refers to deaf people who do not use ASL, have little or no affiliation with the Deaf community and little, if any, understanding of the Deaf culture. These individuals operate primarily or exclusively in the hearing community and culture.

Deaf-Blind (spelled with a capitalized D and B)

This term refers to people who have the dual deficits of both hearing and vision, of all types and degrees. Limited hearing and vision may be present at birth or may be acquired later in life. A number of different definitions of Deaf-Blind exist.

For more information, contact National Center on Deaf-Blindness (NCDB) Library; Deaf-Blindness Center For Parent Information and Resources; or Helen Keller National Center.

Children of Deaf Adults (CODA)

This term refers to hearing sons and daughters of any age, born to and raised by one or two Deaf adults. CODAs, from birth, are members of the Deaf community, they learn ASL as a first language and are entrenched in the Deaf culture.

The vast majority of hearing CODA individuals operate effectively in both the Deaf and hearing communities.

For more information, contact CODA International.

Kids of Deaf Adults (KODA)

This term refers to Deaf and hearing kids (18 years of age and under) who currently reside with one or two Deaf parents or guardians.

GODA (deaf and hearing grandchildren of one or two Deaf grandparents)

SODA (siblings and spouses of Deaf individuals)

This term refers to hearing siblings who grew up with (or are growing up with) one or more Deaf siblings.

SODA is also used to refer to spouses of Deaf individuals.

Deaf of Deaf (DOD)

Deaf and hard of hearing children born to and raised by one or two Deaf adults. From birth, DODs are members of the Deaf community, learn ASL as a first language and are entrenched in the Deaf culture.


This term refers to people who have normal hearing acuity. Some are skilled with American sign language, the vast majority are not. Some are affiliated with the Deaf community and knowledgable about the Deaf culture, the vast majority are not.

The exceptions, mostly, would be those who are CODA, KODA and SODA and in some cases GODA. As hearing people, their long and close association with Deaf parents/guardians or siblings, from birth, allows them unique insight into the experience of being Deaf.

In addition, some hearing and late deafened people spend years associating with the Deaf community, experiencing the Deaf culture and learning ASL, activities and skills which allow them entry into the wonderful world of the Deaf.

Terms perceived by hearing people

The following terms are inapproripate and some offensive; therefore, to show respect, these terms should not be used: deaf and dumb (archaic term), deaf-mute (also archaic term), and hearing impaired (unacceptable term). These are no longer used since long.

hearing impaired

This term was adopted by hearing professionals in the 20th century without consulting Deaf people. This term was utmostly disapproved by Deaf people. Instead, use the appropriate term "Deaf and Hard of Hearing".

If you see a hearing professional or regular person using the term "hearing impaired", you will know that she/he is either ignorant or disrespectful.

Congenital deafness (a medical term)

Those with a loss of hearing present at birth due to genetic or other factors that affected the hearing apparatus of the fetus while in utero.

hearing loss

The term hearing loss refers to varying degrees of hearing: mild, moderate, severe and profound.


A state of hearing loss. This term is not commonly used among Deaf people. Instead, we use a positive term, "being Deaf".

Pre-lingual deaf (also referred to as: early deafened)

Those of any age who a) were born with a hearing loss or who b) acquired a hearing loss prior to the acquisition of language, meaning prior to one year of age, the age at which language development typically begins.

Post-lingual deaf (also referred to as: late deafened)

Those of any age, who acquired a hearing loss after they acquired language (regardless of signed or spoken). Also see below: Late-deafened Adult (LDA)

late deafened adult (lower case l and d). Often referred to by the acronym LDA.

Those born with normal hearing who acquired, post-lingually or after the onset of adolescence (13 or older) a significant hearing loss.

Prior to their hearing loss, LDAs learned/used English or some other auditory language, attended hearing schools, associated with hearing people and lived in the hearing culture and world.

Most LDAs are not involved with the Deaf community and have little or no understanding of the Deaf culture.

LDAs typically go through a natural, understandable process of mourning the loss of their hearing after which they struggle, as needed, to adjust to living life as an LDA.

For more information, see Association of Late Deafened Adults (ALDA) or HOH LD News.

Profoundly deaf

This medical term refers to those who cannot hear anything even when sound is amplified to the highest levels. This refers to both culturally Deaf and non-culturally deaf individuals, regardless of their speech skills or signing skills.

The following definition of 'profoundly deaf' is used by some medical professionals: A hearing loss so severe that one is unable to detect, in the better ear, any sound that is below 95 decibels.

For their invaluable contributions to this list of definitions a special thank you to (in alphabetical order): Dr. Lisalee D. Egbert, Jolanta Lapiak, Dr. Bill Vicars, Lyn J. Wiley.

Additional reading: "An Introduction to American Deaf Culture" by Holcomb.