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Published: November 10, 2019
Understanding Disability: Deaf and Hard of Hearing

Woman being fitted with a hearing aid

[vc_row][vc_column width=”2/3″][vc_column_text]by Amber Carlton


When there is a partial or total inability to hear, individuals are considered deaf or hard of hearing. Approximately 20 percent of the U.S. population (48 million people) have hearing loss and that number will continue to grow as the population ages. But not all hearing loss is the same. In fact, there are four different kinds:

Conductive Hearing Loss: Occurs when sounds can’t get through the outer or middle ear. This can be caused by fluid build-up, ear wax, ear infection, a hole in the eardrum, earwax or other object in the ear, or an issue with the formation of the outer or middle ear. This type of hearing loss can often be treated with medicine or surgery.

Sensorineural Hearing Loss: This is the most common type of hearing loss and is due to inner ear nerve damage or issues with the neural pathways from the inner ear to the brain. Causes can include illness, toxic drugs, genetic conditions, loud noises, a blow to the head, or the way the inner ear is formed. This type of hearing loss cannot usually be fixed with surgery or medication, but hearing aids my help in some cases.

Mixed Hearing Loss: A combination of the two types listed above.

Auditory Neuropathy Spectral Disorder: In this type of hearing loss, sound enters the ear normally but it isn’t organized in a way the brain can understand due to damage to the inner ear or hearing nerve.

Hearing loss is typically categorized from mild to profound, depending on the softest sounds in decibels (dB) a person can hear.

  • Mild:
    • for adults: between 26 and 40 dB
    • for children: between 20 and 40 dB
  • Moderate: between 41 and 69 dB
  • Severe: between 70 and 94 dB
  • Profound: 95 dB and above

It is important to note that many people with hearing loss do not consider themselves “hearing impaired,” but rather deaf or hard of hearing. When in doubt, ask how they identify.


At The Independence Center, we offer a variety of resources for people who are deaf or hard of hearing, such as peer support groups, assistive technology, and help finding a job.

If you or someone you know is deaf or hard of hearing and would like information on living more independently, visit our Deaf & Hard of Hearing page. You can also call us at 719-476-8181 (video phone for the d/Deaf: 719-358-2513).


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