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Is Deafness a Disability?

By Rhonda Rivera
Updated May 17, 2024
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Whether or not people should call deafness a disability is a highly debated question with two primary opposing views. Many people argue that deafness is definitely a disability; it is often the result of irreversible damage to the ear and can significantly reduce one’s quality of life. Other people, especially those who are deaf, argue that deafness is not a disability because the members of the deaf community has their own language. To them, calling deafness a disability is akin to saying a person is disabled for not speaking the same language as everyone else. They do not feel disabled or hindered by their deafness, and may be insulted by terms such as “hearing disability” or “hearing-impaired.”

The counter-argument to the idea that sign language is just another language is often that the deaf person cannot learn a new language. Someone who speaks French in an area where most people speak English can eventually pick up the English language to better communicate with the English-speakers. It is frequently argued that because a deaf person cannot, for example, learn English or French as a spoken language, the argument that sign language is simply another language and deafness is not a disability falls apart. This argument holds true for deaf people who can speak a language, because they very likely cannot learn a new one.

Still, the fact remains that many people who are deaf do not feel disabled in any way and believe they lead lives just as unhindered and fulfilling as those who can hear. In fact, some deaf people insist that deafness is a gift that enriches their everyday lives. To people who share these beliefs, pity or insistence that deafness is a disability can be very insulting. These beliefs are frequently strongest in people who are born deaf, rather than people who suffered an injury or developed a condition that eventually lead to deafness.

A dictionary definition of disability is a “disqualification, restriction, or disadvantage”, which may not apply to deafness in all people. Deafness is legally considered a disability in many areas, but it can be argued that some laws are outdated or overly sympathetic to people who are simply different. For some, calling deafness a disability is common sense; for others, calling deafness a disability is an ignorant insult from those who have not yet explored the deaf world and community.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

By celt56 — On Aug 11, 2013

I agree with Post no. 2. I've been hearing impaired most of my life, and hearing aids do not restore perfect hearing for me. It's a "hidden" disability. I don't sign. People accuse me of not listening. I've been discriminated against in the workplace, and managers have tried to "trick" me to see if I'm "really deaf", and so forth. Sometimes I want to put the hearing aids into a drawer and just withdraw into my own muffled little world. Yes, it's a disability.

By anon178508 — On May 21, 2011

I have to completely disagree with this article. The reason many completely deaf people think they're OK is because they were raised in deaf schools with many others like them around and have a lot of support. They felt loved and accepted within their circle.

Many others walking this planet partially deaf (or all deaf) do not get special schooling, and have to suffer being thrown into groups of fully hearing people and then get ostracized for being "odd" or different. Mental illness can result, and this is definitely a disability. Mental illness is completely caused by non-acceptance within one's circles of social exposure and the isolation that results. I will argue that until the day I die.

By anon151509 — On Feb 10, 2011

I have to disagree with the statement: 'English or French as a spoken language, the argument that sign language is simply another language and deafness is not a disability falls apart.'

Deaf people may not be able to learn a new language through speech. But they can indeed learn a new sign language, French, Spanish, Italian, American and so on. Just the same as a hearing person can through speaking

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