4 Hearing impairments

4.1 Profoundly deaf versus hard of hearing

The Royal National Institute for the Deaf (RNID) estimate that there are approximately 9 million deaf and hard of hearing people in the UK. Approximately half a million of these are severely or profoundly deaf. The numbers are rising as the number of people over 60 increases. The RNID also states that the vast majority of severely or profoundly deaf people cannot hear well enough to use a voice telephone, even when using equipment to amplify the sound.

When discussing deafness it is important to distinguish between people with severe (or profound) deafness, and people who are hard of hearing. Profoundly deaf people do not generally use hearing aids as they provide no benefit. Some hard of hearing people use hearing aids to reduce the effects of the impairment. Hearing aids can allow people to access sound, but the sound is unlikely to be the same quality as can be heard with unimpaired hearing.

Some deaf people – for example, those who have been profoundly deaf since birth – use Sign Language as their primary, or only, language and may not read or write English (or other spoken languages). Sign languages are different in different countries that use the same spoken language. For example British Sign Language (BSL) is different from American Sign Language (ASL). There are also signed versions of other spoken languages.