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Models of deafness

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Language is a powerful tool. It both shapes and is shaped by ideas, perceptions and attitudes. And it's these very attitudes that can pose the most difficult barriers for people who are culturally Deaf, oral, deafened, and hard of hearing.

There are three main models of deafness that affect an individual's perspectives, interactions, self-identification and, ultimately, their worldview: medical, social and cultural.

Medical model – Focuses on the medical/pathological condition of the individual – a functional loss, handicap or impairment that needs medical intervention and rehabilitation to increase one's quality of life. Common terms used in the past to describe the deaf or hard of hearing individual or their physical state using this model include “disabled,” “hearing impaired,” and “deafness.” Nowadays, such terms are considered antiquated and offensive in the Deaf community.

Social model – Focuses on humanistic/social condition – the abilities and unique function that are needed to gain equal access to satisfy quality of life. Common terms used to describe the deaf or hard of hearing individual or their physical state using this model include deaf, deafened, hard of hearing, and people with hearing loss.

Cultural model – Focuses on a shared language and/or cultural condition – a desire to celebrate Deaf culture and life. Newer terms used to describe the deaf or hard of hearing individual or their physical state using this model include Deafhood and Deaf-gain (as opposed to “hearing loss”).

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