How Do Deaf People View Themselves?

Do Deaf People View Themselves Only as Deaf?

One intense topic of discussion on a forum was the question of whether deaf people view themselves as only deaf (culturally or otherwise), as disabled, or as both deaf and disabled. Some deaf people consider themselves disabled because of their inability to hear. Others feel disabled because of experiences with discrimination as well as the inability to hear. Some may claim the disability label in order to qualify for legal protections such as the Americans with Disabilities Act and government benefits such as Social Security. Others feel that they are not disabled because deaf people who do not have additional disabilities, can function well with the help of modern technology, interpreters, hearing aids, and cochlear implants.

Hearing impaired man reading e-mail on phone
miodrag ignjatovic / Getty Images

The debate was opened by JoFire04, who wrote:

  • Do you consider yourself Deaf and Disabled or just Deaf? (This includes people who are hard of hearing or any type of hearing loss). Deaf and Disabled: Why?
    Deaf Only: Why?
  • What is the difference between Deaf and Disability? Is it because of hearing loss or because of language/culture? How does Disability affect Deaf and vice versa?
  • How does either affect the whole human species, individually or as a populated society? How does it affect the academic process, advocacy for deaf or disability rights, legal due process, family structure, and/or yourself as a person who is deaf or deaf and disabled?

Several people posted in response, and selected comments follow.

“Deaf is not really a disability. It is just minor thing that they can’t hear.”

“...Deaf is also a disability. You have a loss of one of the 5 senses that enable a human being to be ‘normal’...This disability enables you to have the privilege to gain some accessibility to resources that you would nonetheless would not be allowed to have, just because you’re ‘different.’..You say that you are not disabled, should this mean that you should not be allowed to have: interpreters, closed/open captioning, CART, equal access to education, paper and pen, notification systems, TTYs, sign language...It is like you’re saying that ‘I identify myself as deaf but I don’t need all the accessibilities (mentioned above).’ ‘I don’t want to be treated ‘so’ differently from other folks who think they are regular (so called ‘perfect’) humans?”

“deaf is not a disability? WHy do many deafies receive disability benefit checks?”

Deaf people get ssi because of hearing people don’t hire them unless the person who is hire deaf people who has understand about deaf culture like getting an interpreter for meeting and stuff like that.”

“Deaf folks along with other people with disabilities receive SSA benefits because they have the same barrier: others are afraid to let them work no matter how qualified they may be.”

A grandmother with a deaf grandchild then wrote:
“I have a deaf granddaughter and have been involved with the deaf community for 18 years. She went to public schools for l6 years and is now in a School for the Deaf. At the public school, the attitude was not to worry about how much she is learning she can always get SSI. My response was she is intelligent and capable and will have a job. There are several deaf people in our area who live on SSI. There are several who have good jobs...Some of the kids would rather get SSI. Some of the deaf people I know have never worked and live on SSI.”

“You straight out called that Deaf girl disabled. She may have what you perceive from your Webster’s dictionary a disability, but if she doesn’t consider her self disabled, then you have no right to refer to her that way.”

A poster pointed out that some deaf people have additional disabilities:
“I am Culturally Deaf. As for disABILITY...I have many other physical illnesses that causes serious problems in finishing college, working a full-time job and keeping up my personal life. That has more serious consequences compared to my meager Deafness...It doesn’t help that the pathological hearing people’s point of views prevents many skilled Deaf individuals to lead fulfilling independent lives. With constant misunderstandings, phobias/fears/ignorance of Deaf people/ASL, they are not letting their half of the bridge down to let us in their world...It is from one’s dangerous lethargic attitude or audistic oppression that leads to problems in preventing Deaf people to live healthy, happy lives in work, school, family living.”

“...We do have to remember that we do have culture and language; however, as a group of people with a disability (loss of hearing) we have to maintain that identity which is tied to disAbility to ensure that we have full equal access and accommodations as the real world simply because we are humans, just the same as everyone else.”

Some forum members pointed out that for late-deafened people, deafness is a disability:
“...for those who are deafened or acquire deafness, they ARE truly DISABLED through loss...

“...I accept there is a real reluctance on the part of many employers to ‘take a chance’ on a deaf person, but being deaf doesn’t mean an automatic right to any job.”


“I grew up with lip reading, oral, hearing aids, and the STIGMA of being different, yes STIGMA. Now I have lost most of my usable hearing (assuming you considered 80% lost for speech and help from bilateral aids having usable hearing.) and I depend more on sign, I consider myself part of the deaf community/culture, although I have to associate with hearies and live amongst them every day. I think the difference is that in the Deaf Community/culture deaf is part of who I am, what makes me, me. In the hearing world, it is still a stigma and makes me different...”

A visitor wrote:
“As a person born with a hearing loss, I have always accepted, yet struggled with my lack of ability to hear. While I do not exactly enjoy using the term ‘disabled’ it is what it is. My lack of hearing ability does NOT make me inferior, despite the fact that many people in society try really hard to make me feel that way.”

I feel that as long as the term “disability” does not carry negative connotations with it—meaning, that as long as it is NOT used to degrade, embarrass, isolate or exclude people with disabilities, then I think it can be used sometimes to inform others if/when necessary. However, since it is not a perfect world, the usage of the term is sometimes utilized to do just those things: embarrass, exclude, and etc.

It is painful and frustrating to encounter discrimination because of the stigma that any disability carries with it, so I realize that many people do not use the term “disabled.”

Research Resources

The question of whether deafness is a disability has even been addressed in books focused solely on that topic, such as Deaf and Disabled, or Deafness Disabled?, written by Mairian Corker, a deaf woman.

1 Source
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Corker M. Deaf and Disabled, or Deafness Disabled?: Towards a Human Rights Perspective. Philadelphia: Open University Press; 1998. Disability, Human Rights, and Society series.

By Jamie Berke
 Jamie Berke is a deafness and hard of hearing expert.