Deaf versus hard-of-hearing: a viewpoint


© Alexander Raths-

In a viewpoint article in the American Journal of Nursing, Margaret Widner-Kolberg, a hearing loss support specialist and clinical instructor in pediatrics at Johns Hopkins School of Nursing, Baltimore, Maryland (USA), provides her insight into hearing loss and the difference between people who identify as deaf and those who identify as hard-of-hearing. The article highlights the importance of this distinction for proper patient care.

Widner-Kolberg says that society’s perceptions of people with disabilities are changing, with improved access to services and to the job market. There is, however, still considerable confusion about the difference between those who are deaf, those who are hard-of-hearing, and even those with hearing loss who do not identify with either group. People in the deaf community mostly communicate using sign language, while those who are hard-of-hearing mostly do not, and generally live in the hearing world.

The healthcare system has implemented a wide range of measures to help the deaf, including sign language interpreters and specific devices for patients and their families in hospitals. For the hard-of-hearing, however, there are no standards of care or specific assistive devices. The author believes that “health care personnel are usually not trained in reliable ways of communicating with this population.” This causes a serious disconnection between carers and their patients, affecting quality of care and even raising liability issues when it places patients in danger.

On a personal level, Widner-Kolberg started losing her hearing as a young nurse and says she has learned how to adapt to stay in her profession. She advocates specific training in healthcare disciplines on how to help the hard-of-hearing, through standardized programs, policies, and procedures.

Source: Widner-Kolberg BM. Hard of hearing is not deaf. The American Journal of Nursing. 2014 Feb;114(2):11.