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An estimated 61 million adults in the US, or one in every 4 adults and 1 in 6 children ages 3 to 17, live with a disability (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2019; Zablotsky et al., 2019). Among these are disabilities that affect sensory function. Sensory disability affects one or more of the senses (hearing, vision, smell, taste, and somatosensory—sensitivity to touch, heat, cold, and painful stimuli) and balance.

People receive 95% of information about the environment around us through our ability to hear and see. So, hearing loss and vision loss affect how we obtain information about the world (National Rehabilitation Information Center, 2019). The focus of this chapter is hearing loss.

Definitions of hearing loss vary somewhat from one source to another. The World Health Organization (WHO, 2019) defines hearing loss as an inability to hear as well as someone with normal hearing—that is, someone who has a hearing threshold of 25 decibels (dB) or better in both ears. According to WHO, disabling hearing loss is hearing loss of greater than 40 dB in the better-hearing ear in adults and greater than 30 dB in the better-hearing ear in children. The term hard of hearing or hearing impaired describes hearing loss that is moderate to severe. People who are hard of hearing or hearing impaired cannot hear sounds under 40 dB in their better ear without the use of a hearing aid or other assistive device. Finally, the term deaf describes people with very little or no hearing. This is referred to as profound hearing loss (WHO, 2019).

Others define hearing loss more broadly as the loss of ability to hear sounds.


Terminology used to describe people with hearing loss has changed over time. Many people with hearing loss no longer consider the terms hearing impairment and hearing impaired acceptable. The terms deaf, hard of hearing, and hearing loss are generally considered more respectful and are preferred by many people with loss of hearing (National Association of the Deaf [NAD], 2020). Many consider people with hearing loss to be the most inclusive term, and it is used in this chapter where possible.

It is important to ask people how they prefer to identify themselves. Their preferences may reflect their identification with others with comparable hearing loss. For example, many people who have hearing loss from birth do not see themselves as having lost their hearing; rather, they consider themselves Deaf (with a capital D) and identify with the Deaf community. In turn, some people who became deaf later in life identify themselves as late-deafened with a small d. On a related note, be aware that not all organizations use updated terminology.

The terms deaf and dumb and deaf-mute are universally offensive. These archaic terms have no place in today’s vocabulary. They reflect the unfounded belief that if people are ...

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