Fast Facts: Deafness and Hearing Loss


Everybody wants one thing: to be understood.[1]

Stereotypes and prejudices have impacted people with a hearing loss for years – People have long perceived that people who have a hearing loss are poor communicators, cognitively or behaviorally impaired or socially awkward.

Audism is the belief that those with the ability to hear are superior or “normal.” Because of audism, the rights of deaf individuals are regularly violated in places such as movie theaters, classrooms, the workplace, interactions with law enforcement and even online.

Hearing Impairment is a term that is no longer considered acceptable in the deaf community as it suggests that there is a deficit, or that the person is less than[2]. Deaf and hearing loss are preferred terms.

The Numbers

While more than half of all adults over 75 have hearing loss,[3] the condition affects people of all ages. Technological advancements now identify issues early and within hours of being born, newborns can be diagnosed with hearing loss.

Chances are you know someone with hearing loss. An estimated 13-20% of the population aged report some trouble hearing.[4] [5]

Hearing loss is far more common than might be expected. According to the World Health Organization:[6]

* More than 360 million people throughout the world have disabling hearing loss
* Hearing loss has many causes, including complications at birth, certain infectious diseases, genetic factors, chronic ear infections, prolonged exposure to excessive noise and aging
* Primary prevention could avoid half of all cases of hearing loss
* Treatments for hearing loss include assistive devices, including hearing aids and cochlear implants; sign language and captioning; and many forms of social and educational support.

Deaf Culture

With deafness comes a culture – one that most people in the hearing community are not part of and do not understand. The American Sign Language (ASL) is what brings Deaf people together and is the focal point of the community. Advocating that all people have the right to have language, teaching ASL from birth to babies and children who are deaf or who have hearing loss will provide a natural sense of belonging.

Andrew Solomon deftly captures the essence of Deaf culture when he explains in Far From the Tree how many deaf people would not choose to be hearing[7].

* Curing deafness makes it a pathology, an anathema.
* Accommodating deafness makes it a disability, and this is tolerable.
* Celebrating deafness makes it a culture, and this trumps all.

National Association of the Deaf (NAD) President Chris Wagner guest blogged for B Stigma-Free about Deaf culture. Read the article here.

Hearing Aids

Many people fail to seek help for acquired hearing loss because of misplaced shame and embarrassment over their condition. Research shows that hearing loss stigma stems from three main factors – changes in self-perception, ageism, and vanity.[8] Only one in five people whose hearing could improve with hearing aids choose to use them.[9] While financial issues are certainly a factor in some of these decisions, it is clear that stigma plays a clear and influential role. In fact, of adults who refuse to wear hearing aids, 40% describe stigma as the driving reason behind their choice.[10]

Participants’ self-perception was negatively altered when wearing hearing aids, and results reflected the importance of discreet aids. This study[11] emphasized the reality that hearing loss is an invisible challenge that people often try to hide from others. When concealed, however, the social ramifications are far-reaching. The ability to listen is an integral part of sharing ideas and participating in activities, and when hearing is compromised, it is difficult to live life to the fullest. Hearing loss can adversely affect one’s ability to interact with the world around you, leading to relational stress, social withdrawal, embarrassment and isolation.

Because hearing loss is an invisible condition, people affected by self-stigma often deny or minimize their impairment.[12] As a result, effective treatments, including hearing aids and other hearing assistive devices, are not utilized.

Changing perceptions surrounding hearing loss is necessary to encourage more individuals to seek early treatment. This would allow people with hearing loss to more fully participate in social activities and experiences by meaningfully addressing their psychosocial, physical, and communication needs.[13] Studies reinforce that when treatment is finally received, people with hearing loss and their loved ones enjoy a greatly improved quality of life.[14]

One can’t help but see that the ear buds and bluetooth devices universally used today do not look very different from behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing devices. Perhaps technological devices will help lift the stigma of hearing aids, making them as common as eyeglasses.


[1] Deaf Culture On-Line, Accessed July 2, 2015,

[2] Frequently Asked Questions about Community and Culture, National Association of the Deaf. Accessed August 26, 2015,

[3] Quick Statistics. (n.d.). Retrieved June 27, 2015, from

[4] Blackwell DL, Lucas JW, Clarke TC. Summary health statistics for U.S. adults: National Health Interview Survey, 2012. National Center for Health Statistics. Vital Health Stat 10(260). 2014.

[5] Lin FR, Niparko JK, Ferrucci L. Hearing loss prevalence in the United States.  Arch Intern Med. 2011;171(20):1851-1852

[6] World Health Organization (WHO). Deafness and hearing loss. (2015, March 1). Retrieved August 30, 2015.

[7] Solomon, Andrew, Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity, 2012. Scribner, New York.

[8] Wallhagen, M. (2009). The Stigma of Hearing Loss. The Gerontologist, 50.1, 66-75.

[9] Dawes, P., H. Fortnum, D.R. Moore, R. Emsley, P. Norman, K.J. Cruickshanks, A.C. Davis, M. Edmondson-Jones, A. McCormack, M.E. Lutman, K. Munro. (2014). Hearing in Middle Age: A Population Snapshot of 40-69 Year Olds in the UK. Ear Hear, eScholarID:222165

[10] Gagné JP, Southall H, Jennings MB. Stigma and self-stigma associated with acquired hearing loss in adults. Hearing Review. 2011;18(8):16-22.

[11] Wallhagen, M. (2009). The Stigma of Hearing Loss. The Gerontologist, 50.1, 66-75.

[12] Vogel DL, Wade NG, Hackler AH. Perceived public stigma and the willingness to seek counseling: the mediating roles of self-stigma and attitudes toward counseling. J Counseling Psychol. 2007;54(1):40-50.

[13] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. (2011). Topics & objectives index—Healthy People.

[14] Kramer, S. E., Allessie, G. H., Dondorp, A. W., Zekveld, A. A., & Kapteyn, T. S. (2005). A home education program for older adults with hearing impairment and their significant others: A randomized trial evaluating short- and long-term effects. International Journal of Audiology, 44, 255–264.


Spotlight Calendar

Each month B Stigma-Free will spotlight a different area for attention. Blog articles, fact sheets and social media emphasis will call attention to the issue of stigma and the identified topic. Do you have suggestions for us to include? Tell us your ideas here.

Future Spotlight Topics:



October 2015 – Dwarfism

November 2015 – PTSD

December 2015 – Religion

January 2016 – Socio-Economic Status

February 2016 – Eating Disorders

March 2016 – Learning Disabilities

April 2016 – Substance Abuse

May 2016 – Older People

September 2016 – Albinism