What’s up with the Big-D in Deaf?

The Capitalization Question: Not long ago, a reader asked us why we use the capitalized version of Deaf in our blog and website. This question brought us back to our thoughts last year, when we were in the middle of writing the text for the ASC website and debating the D/d issue. Opting to capitalize Deaf was not something we decided on a whim, nor was it a separatist type of move. We did it consciously, out of inclusion, out of practicality, and out of pride.

Deaf as an Inclusive Term: Far from viewing “Deaf” as a way of excluding people, we see the term as an inclusive one. To us, “Deaf” refers to any people who happen to be Deaf. It has nothing to do with having Deaf or hearing parents, or using ASL, SEE, spoken English, cued speech, or any other communication modality. Neither does it matter if one was mainstreamed, educated at a Deaf school, or homeschooled. Degree of hearing loss, being Deaf from birth or being late-Deafened, using a hearing aid or a cochlear implant – none of these, in our minds, precludes anyone from being Deaf.

Capitalizing Deaf parallels capitalizing African American, Jewish, Hispanic, and so on, with each of these capitalized designations referring to a group of people with their own culture and physical characteristics (i.e., skin color, bloodline, hearing status). All of these terms are inclusive. Some Jewish people may be observant Orthodox Jews, centering their lives around their religion, while others may simply identify as Jewish through their family lineage and never set foot in a temple. Some Jewish people speak Hebrew, while others don’t. Similarly, some Hispanic Americans may be fluent Spanish speakers, while others, perhaps third- or fourth-generation Hispanic Americans, may not be conversant in Spanish at all. Some may have dark brown skin, while others may have light brown skin, and still others might “pass” as Caucasian.

None of these differences function as exclusionary criteria. Jewish people are Jewish, African Americans are African American, and Deaf people are Deaf, no matter what individual differences might exist within these groups.

Deaf as a Practical Term: By using Deaf as an inclusive term, we are able to avoid the cumbersome use of a string of words describing different kinds of Deaf people. Which is easier reading?:

A) It’s important to know that being Deaf, deaf, hard of hearing, hearing impaired, Deaf-blind, or late-deafened itself is not a cause of depression.


B) It’s important to know that being Deaf itself is not a cause of depression.

The practice of switching back and forth between Deaf and deaf, depending on the situation, is awkward and unnecessarily complicated. We don’t see jewish, african american, or latina/o being used to differentiate less-observant Jews, lighter-skinned African Americans, or non-Spanish speaking Latina/o people. It is simpler to reserve the use of “deaf” for when it is not referring specifically to people. For example: “She was deaf to his pleas”.

Of course, when distinctions need to be made between Deaf people (i.e., for research or assessment purposes), we understand the usefulness of terms like those mentioned above (i.e., hard of hearing, late-deafened, etc.). We also respect people’s choices in how they decide to describe themselves.

Deaf Pride: Why not just get rid of the big D and use “deaf” to refer to all people who are Deaf? We did consider doing this, but in the end, we felt it important to acknowledge that Deaf people are a unique group of people. In the same way that the J in Jewish is capitalized, the B in Black, and the L in Latina/o, we choose to capitalize the D in Deaf to reflect our pride in our community and culture.

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