Capital D Deaf: What’s the Difference?
In our blog, you may often see us refer to “Deaf,” “deaf,” and “D/deaf” when writing about people with a hearing loss. This is not a typo. These are common spellings when referring to the large, unique D/deaf population. So when is capital D Deaf used, and when is it appropriate to use “deaf” or “D/deaf?”
Capital D Deaf: The Community of Sign Language Users
The Deaf community, like other communities (LGBT, African American/Black), holds a cultural identity. Culturally identifying oneself within a certain category is a personal decision; and therefore, it is respected that each D/deaf person identifies based on their fit and comfort level in the community.
Those who culturally identify themselves as part of this community are referred to in writing as capital D Deaf. Deaf individuals are traditionally sign language users who grew up in a vastly different environment then those who can hear or those who experience hearing loss later in life. Throughout history, those who were Deaf shared a common language, sign language, and typically had common life experiences. This is how a cultural identity was formed.
When deaf is spelled with a lower-case d, this simply refers to the medical meaning of hearing loss and/or an inability to hear with one’s ears. People who identify with this spelling do not hold a cultural identity with the Deaf community. These deaf people likely have never been exposed to sign language or capital D Deaf culture, or they choose not to be a part of the culture. Also, it could be that they are latent deaf. This usually occurs with age or with soldiers who lose their hearing in battle.
When you see them referred together, as in D/deaf, it’s meant to fit either category. Since it’s not known how each unique person wants to identify themselves, using this term is more inclusive.
General Rule: “Deaf,” “deaf,” “D/deaf”
When in doubt about which term to use – Deaf, deaf, D/deaf – choose Deaf. The proper capital D Deaf looks more formal and respectful; therefore, anyone not identifying to Deaf cultural norm likely won’t be offended by the capital D.
Deaf Culture – Big D Small D