Why Words Matter | Deaf Perspective on Language

Published on: 22nd April 2024


As a new parent to a deaf or hard of hearing child, your connections to the Deaf community will grow, and you will start to learn more about Deaf culture and the terminology surrounding deafness. This may be through other families with deaf and hard of hearing children who share common experiences, or members of the community that offer guidance and support.

If you need support, our Therapy and Family Services are experts in early intervention and are here to help.

Let’s start the journey together with a guide to empowering language.


Language around Deafness

While there will always be varying preferences, the Deaf community generally values positive terminology and language that focuses ‘on the person, not the disability’ .

You’ll often come across these terms below:


“Hearing impaired”:

You may have heard this term already and parents will frequently come across this in the medical field, for example, as a scientific description from a doctor or audiologist. This term can be seen by members of the Deaf community as clinical and negative, where, rather than looking at a medical ‘issue’, the community see the Deaf experience as a ‘gain’; being part of a rich and diverse community with their own culture, humour and history. It is important to recognise a cultural identity beyond the medical diagnosis and speak to culturally Deaf people about their experiences.

Some terms that may be used instead are: “hearing loss” and “Deaf or hard of hearing” (‘hard of hearing’ can refer to those who may have partial hearing or acquired hearing loss later in life).

The Deaf community is diverse, with a variety of communication preferences, such as using Auslan (Australian sign language) as a first or only language, and it is inclusive of those who are hard of hearing. Some members of the Deaf community also use spoken and written languages alongside sign language. ‘Deaf or hard of hearing’ as one phrase is appropriate when referring to a group, as this encapsulates a wide range of members in the community.

It (words) also has an impact on our sense of self, how we feel about ourselves, how we navigate society, and interact with other people. It is important that there is awareness of the meaning behind the words that are used…’

People With Disability Australia



Capital ‘D’ Deaf vs deaf:

Deaf’ with a capital ‘D’ is used to signify a cultural identity and signing community (those who use Auslan) and deaf with a lowercase ‘d’ can be used to describe those who are physically deaf more generally, who do not identify as being part of the signing community.

We cover this topic and more in greater detail in our Deaf Awareness Training.



“Deaf Gain”:

The concept of changing the narrative from ‘losing’ your hearing to ‘gaining’ deafness and everything that comes with it. This refers to the empowerment, identity, culture, connection and individual and social contributions from the Deaf community.

Deaf people can do anything hearing people can do, except hear.

– I. King Jordan, first Deaf president of Gallaudet University




Outside of the medical space, the term ‘diagnosis’ can be seen as quite clinical and often holds the same negative connotations to the term ‘impairment’ or ‘hearing-impaired‘.

Some terms that may be used instead: “identification” and “discovery” are other ways to refer to this to the community, e.g. ‘Identified as Deaf’, or ‘Discovered’.

I dream that we can change the narrative from diagnosis to discovery…parents can be told, ‘We have discovered your child is deaf! You have given birth to a future community leader!’

– Genevieve Roberts, Therapy and Family Services Coordinator



Every family’s journey is different and there is much to gain as you learn more about the Deaf community.

One of the best places to start is to look at early exposure to language, including Auslan, and establishing links to the Deaf community, i.e finding parent groups, play groups, community pages to follow, Deaf mentors, Teachers of the Deaf and more – which you can access through Deaf Connect’s Therapy and Family Services/which Deaf Connect’s Therapy and Family Services facilitates and champions.

Our Therapy and Family Services are Deaf-led and experts in early intervention, helping parents understand what it means to have a baby with hearing loss, as well as school age kids and adolescents who may have acquired hearing loss later in life. We support early language acquisition with an openness to all communication methods, exposing families to as much language as possible to meet milestones.

…Children who have Auslan as their first and primary language are just as welcome in our group as children who have spoken language as their first and primary language too. We just want to facilitate communication and development in whatever form that takes for our little people.

– Ashlee Everist, Deaf Connect Speech Language Pathologist


Our therapy services like speech language pathology, support, mentorship and kids programs empower you and support your child to guide you through the early years.

Deaf Connect have many allied health therapies that you may not first think of that help to provide wrap-around support for many aspects of your child’s development:

  • Speech Language Pathology
  • Occupational Therapy – how does this support my child?*
  • Physiotherapy – how does this support my child?*
  • Psychology & Counselling – how does this support my child?*

If you’d like to learn more about our allied health and family services, visit our website here or email our friendly team at [email protected] with any questions.

Related Articles