Who is Deaf and Hard of Hearing?

  • There are many different degrees of hearing loss. A mild hearing loss may mean that you have difficulty hearing and understanding someone who is speaking from a distance or has a soft voice. Understanding people speaking when there is a lot of background noise may be difficult.

    If you have moderate hearing loss, you may have trouble understanding conversational levels of speech even if there is not any background noise. Hearing conversations with a noisy background is very difficult.

    A severe hearing loss means you have trouble hearing in all situations. You may hear speech only if the speaker is talking loudly or is standing very close to you.

    A person with profound hearing loss may not hear even loud speech or environmental sounds. Hearing may not be used as the primary means of communicating.

    It's hard to estimate how many people in the United States are deaf or hard of hearing, because there is no legal definition of deafness as there is for blindness. The statistics available are from people who reported themselves as deaf or hard of hearing.

    There are 30.8 million adults in the United States with hearing loss ranging from mild to severe according to the 2002 National Center for Health Statistics. The Better Hearing Institute reports that three in every 1,000 infants are born with serious to profound hearing loss.  A little more than one million school-age children are deaf or hard of hearing. They believe hearing loss is under-reported, so their estimates are higher than those reported by the National Center for Health Statistics. And according to the National Association of the Deaf there are between 250,000 and 500,000 American Sign Language users in the United States and Canada.  Hearing loss is a likely result of growing older: one out of three Americans over age 60 has experienced some loss of hearing. This is a special population with very different needs and concerns. 

    Research also pointed out some interesting facts: People 65 and older are eight times more likely to have hearing problems than people aged 18-34. White males are more likely than females to be deaf or hard of hearing. Whites are more than twice as likely as blacks to have hearing problems, and non-Hispanics are also more likely to have hearing problems than Hispanics.

    The Better Hearing Institute believes that 90-95% of hearing loss can be corrected. Between five and ten percent of those people can be helped with medical or surgical options, including cochlear implants. The remainder can address their hearing loss through the use of hearing aids. While hearing aids cannot totally restore hearing, they can help improve hearing loss for many people.

    A medical doctor who treats people with suspected hearing loss is an otologist or an otolaryngologist. The professional who specializes in evaluating hearing loss and conducting hearing tests is an audiologist.