If you’re relatively new to the world of hearing loss, or if (like me) you’re sort of a latecomer in embracing your identity as someone with hearing loss, there can be a lot to learn about the community itself. You may have seen Deaf or deaf, or D/deaf to refer to both. It’s a simple difference, but a big one.
Deaf, with a capitalized D, refers to a specific deaf culture. Someone who identifies themselves as Deaf likely goes to or went to a school for the deaf, and remains in that cultural and social circle with a lot of pride. The Deaf community correlates with users that rely primarily on sign language; that said, it’s not a requirement for the term at all, but rather their attitude toward their own hearing loss and their passion for the community itself.
With a lowercase “d,” deaf is more of a technical descriptor for significant hearing loss and not a signifier for the cultural belonging seen in the Deaf community. Someone who uses “deaf” may not have strong ties to other deaf community members and may not have attended a school for the deaf. You may find that some people prefer to use the phrase “hard of hearing” rather than deaf, as a way to distance themselves from the social/cultural associations.
As for me (I wear a hearing aid in my “good” ear and am nearing total deafness in the other), I’m not sure which of these I fit into. I was placed into a mainstream school, use hearing aids, haven’t used sign language since I was a small child, don’t spend time with other deaf people, and shied away from my hearing loss as part of my identity for a long time. But I have become more involved and passionate about the unique needs of deaf people with the creation of my website. For now, I stick with lowercase deaf, because I still have a lot to learn. I do tell people in passing that I’m hard of hearing to keep explanations simple, because most hearing people will assume I sign if I throw out “deaf.”
Ultimately, it’s a choice, and if you’re worried, you can always ask someone, especially if you suspect they have strong ties to the deaf community and may prefer the Deaf distinction. Online, you’ll often see people refer to the “D/deaf” community as a way of being inclusive to all those with hearing loss regardless of their social and cultural ties, but don’t stress too much about always capitalizing that D.
If you’d like to do a deeper dive into this discussion, this page from the National Association for the Deaf has a great breakdown of varying terminology.
Side note: it’s been a busy spring for me over here, but happily getting back into the swing of things and more posts will come down the pipeline soon. Thanks for sticking around!