Living with Hearing Loss

Two human ears facing each other and set on a dark teal background.

I’ve been mulling over writing a blog series about my hearing loss for a long time now. I had intended to get something drafted so that I could post during Deaf Awareness Week, which happened between 1st and 7th May, but what with one thing and another I didn’t manage to do that. However – working on the duel principles of better late than never and don’t put off until tomorrow what can be begun today – I decided that having an initial post and a plan for the rest was enough. So this is the first of what I envision to be a series of at least four more posts discussing hearing loss, mostly through sharing my own experiences of living with this disability for the past fifteen years*. 

Currently my plan for this series is to share one post on the second sunday of each month until I have covered everything it seems important to include. At the moment that looks like spending the next post talking about my personal diagnosis (how I was diagnosed, what it means for me now and in the future, and how it affects me), the third discussing the hearing aids I use, the fourth discussing other accomodations that help me communicate and exist in the world, and the final post (currently titled “So how do you …?”) will look at specific things that I do in my everyday life which often cause people who don’t know any better to say “you can’t be deaf if you can do that”. 

But that’s for later. What I want to do now, in the rest of this first post, is talk a little bit about D/deafness in general, by way of explaining the main terms used to describe people with hearing loss, and to share which ones apply to me and which one I prefer to use for myself.       

So lets begin by what is meant by D/deaf? 

The terms Deaf and deaf do not mean the same thing so in using the / to link them it allows anybody communicating using the written word to refer to everyone who experiences any level of hearing loss in a quick and easy way. 

Deaf with a captial D refers to the Deaf community. Everyone in the Deaf community has – in the terms used by NHS to diagnose – severe or profound hearing loss, so little to no hearing at all. The language of the Deaf community in the United Kingdom is BSL (British Sign Language), the majority of the community have been Deaf from birth or early childhood, and they have a very different culture from hearing people thanks to how effectively hearing society excludes Deaf people. They are proud of who they are and the majority of them do not feel that their Deafness needs to be fixed. 

I am unequivocally NOT a member of the Deaf community (I grew up hearing and currently do not speak BSL) and nothing in any of these posts should be taken as me speaking for, or over, any Deaf person.If you are looking to learn more about the Deaf community then please head over to this British Deaf Association post and work from there.  

As someone with moderate hearing loss I come under the umbrella of the word deaf with a small d. Being deaf covers anyone with any level of hearing loss, including those with severe or profound hearing loss who do not consider themselves to be part of the Deaf community. Within this umbrella there are a number of terms that people use, some that are more in favour with deaf people than others. 

When diagnosing deafness the NHS use the terms mild, moderate, severe and profound, as defined by the British Society of Audiology. Some people simply prefer to use those terms to describe their deafness, so they will say they’re moderately deaf or profoundly deaf. 

These terms are defined by a decibel hearing level range and indicates your hearing threshold, i.e. the volume at which a sound needs to be made before you can hear it. 

This is, of course, a massive simplification of how hearing tests and deafness work, and the second post in this series will provide a far more detailed explanation, but for now this should give you a baseline to underpin your understanding of the terms:

  • Mild: 21–40 dB range required to hear sounds.
  • Moderate: 41–70 dB range required to hear sounds.
  • Severe: 71–95 dB range required to hear sounds
  • Profound: above 95 dB required to hear sounds

As a rough guide to what this actually means in terms of hearing speech; mild and moderate hearing loss means that a person can hear a conversation without much difficulty if they’re in a quiet room close to the person talking and there is little in the way of background noise. However if louder background noise is present, or they are a distance from the speaker, they may not be able to make out what is being said. For many people with mild to moderate hearing loss, hearing aids can be a helpful tool.

Severe to profound hearing loss, on the other hand, will generally mean the person is unable to hear what anyone is saying in almost all circumstances. An illustrative example which might help in grasping what severe and profound deafness means is that if you were to stand 15m away from a jackhammer its volume would be around 90 dB. You would be unable to hear pretty much any other noise happening around you, many severe and profoundly deaf people would barely hear the jackhammer.

Then there are several other terms that you may already have heard used for someone with hearing loss; hearing impaired, hard of hearing and partially deaf being the main three. 

Hearing impaired is generally not used any more, as many people do not like impaired as a descriptor. Personally I would not use it for myself at all.

Hard of hearing is a fairly mainstream way to indicate that someone has hearing loss, with the acronym HoH being used widely by deaf people across the internet as it is an easy way to denote their disability using the least amount of characters possible. Although I don’t really like the phrase (it feels to much like the derogatory “hard of thinking” for me to find it palatable for day to day use) I do have it in all my social media bios because it is widely know and also understood by hearing people. I also often have the hearing aid emoji in my screen names as an additional visual clue. 

Partially deaf is, as far as I’m concerned, a very clear way of communicating that someone has a level of hearing loss that affects their day to day life but does not mean that they can’t hear anything at all. It is the term that was used by the audiologist who diagnosed me, way back when, and is my prefered way of describing myself. If I have to disclose my disability in order to participate in something I’ll most often say a version of this:

“I am partially deaf and can’t hear X so could you please Y so I am included.” 

I will add here that I do not use person first language. I’m not a person with partial deafness, I’m a partially deaf person. I can’t put my disability down like a purse and leave it at home when it’s too inconvenient. It’s a part of me, it affects every aspect of my life, and it has indelibly shaped me over the fifteen years I have lived with it. 

This does not, of course, mean that every person you encounter who has hearing loss will think that way. As I’ve made clear, I view my deafness as a diability but not everyone with hearing loss does. As with any form of identity, the best thing you can do if you aren’t sure how to refer to someone is ask them what they prefer and then do as they ask.   

And lastly, making a nice segue from the previous sentence, I would also like to use this post to open up a space for questions. 

Anything anyone would like to know more about, any aspects of my existence as a partially deaf person at all, this is the time to ask me. I will either incorporate the question into one of the posts I already have planned or write an entirely new post about it, depending on what it is. 

And please know that it doesn’t matter if you think you ought to already know the answer, or are worried about offending me with the question, I still want you to ask it. One of the reasons I want to share my experiences is because I currently have the energy to do so and would like to be a conduit for learning and discussion about living with hearing issues. 

I also promise that if I don’t know the answer because it’s not something I’ve experienced then I’ll say and try and point you in the right direction to get an answer from someone who will know, if I can. You’ll never get anything made up from me!

So that’s it for now, please get your questions in and the next post will go up on June 11th

*It’s actually almost sixteen years but I thought that in this instance it was better to round down, not up.

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