Is There a Hard of Hearing Culture? by Shanna Groves / The Lip Reader Blog

 In my soon-to-be-published novel Lip Reader, a church pastor goes out of his way to make sure his deaf congregants understand the music and sermon. He uses sign language while preaching. The music is interpreted through sign and a loud beating drum. Any deaf person visiting this church for the first time would likely feel a connection with the other deaf people there.

Most of us are aware that a Deaf culture exists. Simply visit a state school for the deaf, and observe students and teachers communicating mostly through American Sign Language (ASL). Or sit in on a coffee house “chat” with a local Deaf social group, and notice how quiet the room is while attendees use sign. The Deaf culture is something its participants are proud of, a culture with a shared ASL language and communication style that goes back many years.

Now observe a local meeting of a hearing loss support group. The keynote speaker communicates with both sign language and orally. A man sitting in the back relies on an ASL translator to understand the speaker. A row of people read real-time captions from an overhead screen as a person types what the speaker is saying. Two women sitting up front watch the speaker’s lips attentively to catch each word spoken. All of these people, except the sign interpreter and typist, are hard of hearing. Yet they all have different ways of communicating and understanding one another.

Without a shared communication style, can individuals with hearing loss really have their own sense of community or culture? Readers of this blog recently shared their opinions…

“I have total hearing loss in both ears. But because I was adult deafened and am oral and do not use sign language, I am not considered culturally Deaf, rather hard of hearing. Yet I am “deafer” than 95 percent of the students at the local state school for the deaf who have some residual hearing. I am in between cultures. I cannot participate in the hearing community, nor the Deaf community.” – Sherry Mason, Missouri

“My husband has hearing loss, and it is very difficult to hear in restaurants and other public places. I think people who don’t deal with hearing challenges are unaware of the obstacles they create. Is that cultural?” – Amy Hemingway Smith, Texas

“How about coming up with a definition of ‘culture?’ And with some parameters for what you mean by ‘hard of hearing’ people? Do you mean only people with partial hearing loss who use speech (and maybe speechreading) to communicate? I’ve been assuming you are distinguishing between Deaf people (who use sign language) and hard of hearing people who don’t, but not everyone will realize that. Also, I still think that only people who socialize with several oral hard of hearing people at the same time can really answer the question. People who have never done so aren’t in a position to know themselves whether or not there is a HOH culture–they won’t have seen it in action.” -Dana Mulvany, Washington, D.C. (has hearing loss)

The last comment raises a good question. How can a hard of hearing (HOH) culture be defined?

  • A shared communication style. They prefer to speak orally, instead of only using sign language. Lip reading (also known as speechreading) is also a common way to understand one another.
  • A strong reliance on technology. Hearing aids and assistive listening devices are available to help the HOH population understand speech and hear important sounds.
  • A strong reliance on closed captioning. Captions assist with understanding television, movies, and (when available) live presentations. This could also fall under the technology category.
  • Emotional connection. This would include not always feeling connected with the hearing world because of difficulty understanding speech. For those not comfortable with sign language, they may not feel part of the Deaf culture. Emotionally, individuals with hearing loss might feel somewhat isolated from the hearing and/or Deaf “worlds.”
Sound Off
If a hard of hearing culture does exist, what do you think defines it? Post your comments here and on the Lip Reader Blog:

Author Bio:

Shanna Groves is the author of Lip Reader (June 2009 release), a novel about an Oklahoma family’s hearing loss experiences during the early-1980s. Read the Lip Reader Blog at

0 thoughts on “Is There a Hard of Hearing Culture? by Shanna Groves / The Lip Reader Blog

  1. There is a clear division via communications, we would all hope to break down these barriers. What we see at is many attempts to polarize, to deaf people worried the identities they have are not being recognized. SO the way they do is is to attract like -minded to unite via adversity, I feel personally this is self-defeating.

    CI people DO seem to be forging a separate are, in many cases via banding together against cultural attacks on them, this is NOT good, ditto the Hard of Hearing, who are more allied to a hearing culture than any deaf one.

    Acquired/deafened and CI areas do seem to have a common base in loss terms and issues, but a culture in communicational terms ? no they don’t. It’s a huge gap, but there are many from all the areas mentioned that sign etc and take part in cultural issues, but they are not ‘Deaf’ cultural themselves. Timely, you should mention lip-reading there are concerns in Britain this mode has been reduced to next to nothing, few classes are now offered at all, although sign language has NOT Filled the vacuum, so what is happening ? what are we now using ?

  2. I am one of those who feel that they no longer fit into a hearing culture, though the hearing world is all I have ever really known for most of my life. My speech reading skills are failing me in many situations in the hearing world, but even at that I feel I have to remain part of the hearing culture in order to be involved in the lives of those I want to be involved in.

    Most of the HoH people I know are older, in different states of denial, and not embracing the technology available to them–they might be fitted for hearing aids, but often try to hide the fact that they are hearing aid wearers, if they wear the aids prescribed for them at all.

    In joining the SayWhatClub I have come to see a much broader HoH culture than those described in the above paragraph, but sometimes I still feel it is not okay to be me–an almost 50 year old woman who began losing her hearing in childhood and graduated to a severe, bilateral hearing loss by the end of her teenage years. I’ve never had success with hearing aids, though I continue to try them, as they don’t give me the speech enhancement I seek.

    I’ve done just fine through most of my adult years by lip/speech reading, using visual clues, and anticaptory skills along with concentration to understand the world. The last five years have tried and tested those skills, but I still plug away, doing the best I can to be part of whatever world or culture welcomes me. Sometimes I don’t feel welcome anywhere except SWC.

    I am not sure why there is so much division between what one chooses as the most successful mode of understanding and communicating with all worlds and cultures? Why do we have to choose one world or culture? What works for one will not work for the other, what makes one comfortable will not make another so. I am not sure there is an answer, as leaving all worlds behind to congregate with only those who share one, chosen mode, shrinks all worlds and cultures pretty drastically.

    Just as I would not choose my friends by the color of their skin, their ethnic and social backgrounds, or their gender, I don’t want to limit my world to only those who are like me, those struggling to understand a noisy world visually. I am all for enhancing what hearing I have in order to hear better, but I grew up visualizing speech and anticpating situations and actions, I don’t know how I can let such a big part of me go even if it is failing, and I do know I don’t want to.

    Besides, I have no clue what will replace the visual side of me?


  3. I was born HoH. I cannot hear without my hearingaids at all, except for very loud noises such as sometimes thunder. I lipread as long as hear, but if someone is facing away from me when talking to me, i almost always cant understand what they’re saying. I dont htink there is really a “culture” because where i live, nobody would even know that i am HoH unless if i told them or if they have a class with me ( i have CART- a real time captioner). In fact, my most recent boyfriend, i had to tell him i am HoH because most people cant even tell. I live a normal life. There are some other people that are deaf in my school, and i’ve only noticed their hearing aids because i pay attention to that stuff sometimes, but if i wasnt HoH i never would’ve noticed. I am not ostracized, i play sports and am not treated specially at all. I have friends who at first, didnt even know i am HoH.

  4. I don’t know about a HOH culture, but there definitely needs to be more attention paid to this particular group. I do not consider myself to be either deaf or hearing. I am in between. It is so frustrating, I sometimes feel like I have to choose. I am looked down upon by some culturally Deaf people when they find out I am not a fluent signer or when I say I am not deaf. Well, not really.


  5. I was a member of SWC for several years, beginning when you only had one list of about 30 members. In 1997 I received a CI, and eventually rejoined the hearing world, to some degree at least, and left the list. I found it to be a wonderful experience for me while I was a member, and when my daugeter told me of an HOH friend who had a problem, I decided this was probably the best place to get an answer for her. She is older (like me!) and uses a cellphone; doesn’t have a land line. She often misses phone calls because she doesn’t always hear it ring, and may not notice the vibration if it’s not in her pocket. Have any of you experienced this problem and found a solution to it? If so, please send me your suggestions; I appreciate it! And say “Hi” to Bob Deafie for me…
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  6. I work in the industry and I believe there are devices that can visually alert one to the cellphone’s incoming call.

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