Have you ever noticed that sometimes the word “deaf” is capitalized, while other times it is not? If you are largely in hearing circles, it is likely you have never seen “Deaf” capitalized. But if you have spent any amount of time in the Deaf community, you most certainly will be accustomed to seeing this word used in both its uppercase and lowercase forms. Why is the word “deaf” sometimes capitalized and sometimes not? Secondly, does it really matter? Keep reading and we’ll answer these questions.

As insignificant as the capitalization of “deaf” might seem, this capitalization drastically changes the meaning of the word “deaf.” Lowercase “deaf” is generally used by hearing people as a label for individuals who cannot hear. Uppercase “Deaf” is used within the Deaf community to refer to a deaf person who identifies primarily with Deaf culture. Still unclear about the difference? Here’s the explanation for the development of these two different definitions.

The reason why hearing individuals and the Deaf community view deafness so differently is that each of these groups use a different paradigm when evaluating deafness. Hearing people view deafness from a medical perspective, seeing deafness as nothing more than the inability to hear. They view deafness through a negative paradigm, declaring something has been lost. The Deaf community, however, views deafness from a cultural perspective. Being Deaf means a person acquires sign language and belongs to a specific cultural community. The Deaf community uses a positive paradigm when evaluating deafness, asserting that something has been gained.

Some of you more observant readers might argue that members of the Deaf community sometimes use the lowercase word “deaf” to refer to certain individuals. The word “deaf” can be properly used, when referring to deaf individuals who do not identify with the Deaf community. Uppercase “Deaf” is only used when referring to deaf individuals who consider themselves members of the Deaf community.

Now that you know uppercase “Deaf” and lowercase “deaf” have different definitions, you will better understand the different mindsets of the people who use these words. For more information on this topic, visit this article by the National Associate of the Deaf.

If you need an interpreter for your “Deaf” or “deaf” client, contact us at CLIP Interpreting to schedule a certified interpreter from San Diego!

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About Joy Miladin