|Deaf and/or Hard of Hearing|
|Classification and external resources|
The International Symbol for Deafness
Hearing impairment or deafness refers to conditions in which individuals are fully or partially unable to detect or perceive at least some frequencies of sound which can typically be heard by members of their species. Use of the term impaired implies that deafness presents an inherent disadvantage to an animal, a view that is rejected within the Deaf culture movement, where the terms Deaf and hard of hearing are preferred.
Hearing sensitivity is indicated by the quietest sound that an individual can detect, called the hearing threshold. In the case of people and some animals, this threshold can be accurately measured by a behavioral audiogram. A record is made of the quietest sound that consistently prompts a response from the listener. The test is carried out for sounds of different frequencies. There are also electro-physiological tests that can be performed without requiring a behavioral response.
Normal hearing thresholds are not the same for all frequencies in any species of animal. If different frequencies of sound are played at the same amplitude, some will be perceived as loud, and others quiet or even completely inaudible. Generally, if the gain or amplitude is increased, a sound is more likely to be perceived. Ordinarily, when animals use sound to communicate, hearing in that type of animal is most sensitive for the frequencies produced by calls, or, in the case of humans, speech. This tuning of hearing exists at many levels of the auditory system, all the way from the physical characteristics of the ear to the nerves and tracts that convey the nerve impulses of the auditory portion of the brain.
A hearing impairment exists when an individual is not sensitive to the sounds normally heard by its kind. In human beings, the term hearing impairment is usually reserved for people who have relative insensitivity to sound in the speech frequencies. The severity of a hearing impairment is categorized according to how much louder a sound must be made over the usual levels before the listener can detect it. In profound deafness, even the loudest sounds that can be produced by the instrument used to measure hearing (audiometer) may not be detected.
There is another aspect to hearing that involves the quality of a sound rather than amplitude. In people, that aspect is usually measured by tests of speech discrimination. Basically, these tests require that the sound is not only detected but understood. There are very rare types of hearing impairments which affect discrimination alone.
Hearing impairments are categorized by their type (conductive, sensorineural, or both), by their severity, and by the age of onset. Furthermore, a hearing impairment may exist in only one ear (unilateral) or in both ears (bilateral).
A conductive hearing impairment is an impairment resulting from dysfunction in any of the mechanisms that normally conduct sound waves through the outer ear, the eardrum or the bones of the middle ear.
A sensorineural hearing impairment is one resulting from dysfunction in the inner ear, especially the cochlea where sound vibrations are converted into neural signals, or in any part of the brain that subsequently processes these signals. The vast majority of human sensorineural hearing loss is associated with abnormalities in the hair cells of the organ of Corti in the cochlea. This dysfunction may be present from birth due to genetic or developmental abnormalities, or arise through trauma or disease during the lifetime of an individual. There are also very unusual sensorineural hearing impairments that involve the VIIIth cranial nerve, the Vestibulocochlear nerve or, in rare cases, auditory cortex. Damage to parts of the brain that process auditory signals can lead to a condition in which sounds may be heard at normal thresholds, but the quality of the sound perceived is so poor that speech cannot be understood. Sensorineural hearing loss associated with abnormalities of the auditory system in the brain is called Central Hearing Impairment.
The severity of a hearing impairment is ranked according to the loudness (measured in decibels (dB)) a sound must be before being detected by an individual. Hearing impairment may be ranked as mild, moderate, severe or profound as defined below:
For certain legal purposes such as insurance claims, hearing impairments are described in terms of percentages. Given that hearing impairments can vary by frequency and that audiograms are plotted with a logarithmic scale, the idea of a percentage of hearing loss is somewhat arbitrary, but where decibels of loss are converted via a recognized legal formula, it is possible to calculate a standardized "percentage of hearing loss" which is suitable for legal purposes only.
Another method for quantifying hearing impairments is the Hearing in Noise Test (HINT). HINT technology was developed by the House Ear Institute, and is intended to measure an ability to understand speech in quiet and noisy environments. Unlike pure-tone tests, where only one ear is tested at a time, HINT evaluates hearing using both ears simultaneously (binaural), as binaural hearing is essential for communication in noisy environments and for sound localization.
The age at which hearing loss occurs is crucial for the acquisition of a spoken language.
Prelingual deafness is hearing impairment that is sustained prior to the acquisition of language, which can occur as a result of a congenital condition or through hearing loss in early infancy. Prelingual deafness impairs an individual's ability to acquire a spoken language, but children born into signing families rarely have delays in language development. Most pre-lingual hearing impairment is acquired via either disease or trauma rather than genetically inherited, so families with deaf children nearly always lack previous experience with sign language.
Post-lingual deafness is hearing impairment that is sustained after the acquisition of language, which can occur as a result of disease, trauma, or as a side-effect of a medicine. Typically, hearing loss is gradual and often detected by family and friends of affected individuals long before the patients themselves will acknowledge the disability. Common treatments include hearing aids and learning lip reading.
Post-lingual deafness is far more common than pre-lingual deafness.
People with unilateral hearing impairment (single sided deafness/SSD) have an impairment in only one ear. This can impair a person's ability to localize sounds (e.g., determining where traffic is coming from) and distinguish sounds from background noise in noisy environments.
A similar effect can result from King-Kopetzky syndrome (also known as Auditory disability with normal hearing and obscure auditory dysfunction), which is characterized by an inability to process out background noise in noisy environments despite normal performance on traditional hearing tests. See also: "cocktail party effect," House Ear Institute's Hearing In Noise Test.
The following are some of the major causes of hearing loss.
Populations of people living near airports or freeways are exposed to levels of noise typically in the 65 to 75 dB(A) range. If lifestyles include significant outdoor or open window conditions, these exposures over time can degrade hearing. The U.S. EPA and various states have set noise standards to protect people from these adverse health risks. The EPA has identified the level of 70 dB(A) for 24 hour exposure as the level necessary to protect the public from hearing loss and other disruptive effects from noise, such as sleep disturbance, stress-related problems, learning detriment, etc. (EPA, 1974).
Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) typically is centered at 3000, 4000, or 6000 Hz. As noise damage progresses, damage starts affecting lower and higher frequencies. On an audiogram, the resulting configuration has a distinctive notch, sometimes referred to as a "noise notch." As aging and other effects contribute to higher frequency loss (6–8 kHz on an audiogram), this notch may be obscured and entirely disappear.
Louder sounds cause damage in a shorter period of time. Estimation of a "safe" duration of exposure is possible using an exchange rate of 3 dB. As 3 dB represents a doubling of intensity of sound, duration of exposure must be cut in half to maintain the same energy dose. For example, the "safe" daily exposure amount at 85 dB A, known as an exposure action value, is 8 hours, while the "safe" exposure at 91 dB(A) is only 2 hours (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, 1998). Note that for some people, sound may be damaging at even lower levels than 85 dB A. Exposures to other ototoxins (such as pesticides, some medications including chemotherapy, solvents, etc.) can lead to greater susceptibility to noise damage, as well as causing their own damage. This is called a synergistic interaction.
Some American health and safety agencies (such as OSHA-Occupational Safety and Health Administration and MSHA-Mine Safety and Health Administration), use an exchange rate of 5 dB. While this exchange rate is simpler to use, it drastically underestimates the damage caused by very loud noise. For example, at 115 dB, a 3 dB exchange rate would limit exposure to about half a minute; the 5 dB exchange rate allows 15 minutes.
While OSHA, MSHA, and FRA provide guidelines to limit noise exposure on the job, there is essentially no regulation or enforcement of sound output for recreational sources and environments, such as sports arenas, musical venues, bars, etc. This lack of regulation resulted from the defunding of ONAC, the EPA's Office of Noise Abatement and Control, in the early 1980s. ONAC was established in 1972 by the Noise Control Act and charged with working to assess and reduce environmental noise. Although the Office still exists, it has not been assigned new funding.
Many people are unaware of the presence of environmental sound at damaging levels, or of the level at which sound becomes harmful. Common sources of damaging noise levels include car stereos, children's toys, transportation, crowds, lawn and maintenance equipment, power tools, gun use, and even hair dryers. Noise damage is cumulative; all sources of damage must be considered to assess risk. If one is exposed to loud sound (including music) at high levels or for extended durations (85 dB A or greater), then hearing impairment will occur. Sound levels increase with proximity; as the source is brought closer to the ear, the sound level increases.
Hearing loss can be inherited. Both dominant genes and recessive genes exist which can cause mild to profound impairment. If a family has a dominant gene for deafness it will persist across generations because it will manifest itself in the offspring even if it is inherited from only one parent. If a family had genetic hearing impairment caused by a recessive gene it will not always be apparent as it will have to be passed onto offspring from both parents. Dominant and recessive hearing impairment can be syndromic or nonsyndromic. Recent gene mapping has identified dozens of nonsyndromic dominant (DFNA#) and recessive (DFNB#) forms of deafness.
Extremely heavy hydrocodone (Vicodin or Lorcet) abuse is known to cause hearing impairment. Commentators have speculated that radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh's hearing loss was at least in part caused by his admitted addiction to narcotic pain killers, in particular Vicodin and OxyContin.
In addition to medications, hearing loss can also result from specific drugs; metals, such as lead; solvents, such as toluene; and asphyxiants.  These are mostly industrial chemicals, uncommon in residencies. Combined with noise, these ototoxic chemicals have an additive effect on a person’s hearing loss.  Hearing loss due to chemicals starts in the high frequency range and is irreversible. It damages the cochlea with lesions and degrades central portions of the auditory system.  For some ototoxic chemical exposures, particularly styrene, the risk of hearing loss can be higher than being exposed to noise alone. Controlling noise and using hearing protectors are insufficient for preventing hearing loss from these chemicals. However, taking antioxidants helps prevent ototoxic hearing loss, at least to a degree. The following list provides an accurate catalogue of ototoxic chemicals :
If the hearing loss occurs at a young age, interference with the acquisition of spoken language and social skills may occur. Hearing aids, which amplify the incoming sound, may alleviate some of the problems caused by hearing impairment, but are often insufficient. Cochlear implants artificially stimulate the VIIIth Nerve by providing an electric impulse substitution for the firing of hair cells. Cochlear implants are not only expensive, but require sophisticated programming in conjunction with patient training for effectiveness. People who have hearing impairments, especially those who develop a hearing problem in childhood or old age, require support and technical adaptations as part of the rehabilitation process. Recent research shows variations in efficacy but some studies  show that if implanted at a very young age, some profoundly impaired children can acquire effective hearing and speech, particularly if supported by appropriate rehabilitation such as auditory-verbal therapy .
There has been considerable controversy within the culturally Deaf community over cochlear implants. For the most part, there is little objection to those who lost their hearing later in life or culturally Deaf adults (voluntarily) choosing to be fitted with a cochlear implant. Many in the culturally Deaf community strongly object to a deaf child being fitted with a cochlear implant (often on the advice of an audiologist; new parents may not have sufficient information on raising deaf children) and placed in an oral-only program that emphasizes the ability to speak and listen over other forms of communication such as sign language. Another issue is the fact that the implanted deaf child has to avoid team or full-contact sports to minimize the chances of a head injury, which carries a greater risk where the implant is involved.
A 2005 study achieved successful regrowth of cochlea cells in guinea pigs. It is important to note, however, that the regrowth of cochlear hair cells does not imply the restoration of hearing sensitivity as the sensory cells may or may not make connections with neurons that carry the signals from hair cells to the brain. A 2008 study has shown that gene therapy targeting Atoh1 can cause hair cell growth and attract neuronal processes in embryonic mice. It is hoped that a similar treatment will one day ameliorate hearing loss in humans.
Many hearing impaired individuals use assistive devices in their daily lives:
Many different assistive technologies, such as hearing aids, are available to those who are hearing impaired. People with cochlear implants, hearing aids, or neither of these devices can also use additional communication devices to reduce the interference of background sounds, or to mediate the problems of distance from sound and poor sound quality caused by reverberation and poor acoustic materials of walls, floors and hard furniture.
Three types of wireless, one-way wireless exist along with hard-wired devices. A wireless device used by people who use their residual hearing has two main components. One component sends the sound out to the listener, but is not directly connected to the listener with the hearing loss. The second component of the wireless system, the receiver, detects the sound and sends the sound to the ear of the person with the hearing loss. The three types of wireless devices are the FM system, the audio induction loop and the infra red system. Each system has advantages and benefits for particular uses.
The FM system can easily operate in many environments with battery power. It is thus mobile and does not usually require a sound expert for it to work properly. The listener with the hearing loss carries a receiver and an earpiece. Another wireless system is the audio induction loop which permits the listener with hearing loss to be free of wearing a receiver provided that the listener has a hearing aid or cochlear implant processor with an accessory called a "telecoil". If the listener doesn't have a t-coil or telecoil, then she must carry a receiver with an earpiece. The third kind of wireless device for people with hearing loss is the infra red (IR) device which also requires a receiver to be worn by the listener. Usually the emitter for the IR device, that is, the component that sends out the signal, uses an AC adaptor. The advantage of the IR wireless system, is that people in adjoining rooms cannot listen in on conversations, and thus it is confidential and necessary for situations where privacy and confidentiality are required or chosen. Another way to achieve confidentiality is to use a hardwired amplifier which sends out no signal beyond the earpiece that is plugged directly into the amplifier. That amplifier of the hardwired device also has a microphone inside of it or plugged into it.
Other assistive techniques and devices include:
Inside the classroom, children with hearing impairments may also benefit from interventions. Some of these interventions include, providing favorable seating for the child. This can be done by trying to have the student sit as close to the teacher as possible so that they will be able to hear the teacher, or so that they can read the teachers lips easier. When lecturing in class teachers should try to look at the student as much as possible so that they can have the option of trying to hear exactly what it is the teacher is saying, or they can also read the teachers lips. Limit unnecessary noise in the classroom. If a student with a hearing impairment has a hearing aid, they are likely to hear a lot of unwanted noises. It is important for the class to be quiet when lecturing so that the student will not hear any of these unwanted noises. Pairing hearing impaired students with hearing students is important. This is beneficial for the student, so that the non hearing student can ask the hearing student questions about concepts that they may not have caught. When teaching student’s with hearing impairments, try to use overheads as much as possible. Overheads allow the teacher to write, as well as maintain visual focus on the hearing impaired student. For those students who are completely deaf, one intervention that is one of the most common interventions is having the child communicate with others through an interpreter using sign language.
12% of children aged 6–19 years have permanent hearing damage from excessive noise exposure. The American Academy of Pediatrics advises that children should have their hearing tested several times throughout their schooling:
Besides screening children for hearing loss, schools can also educate them on the perils of hazardous noise exposure. Research has shown that people who are educated about noise-induced hearing loss and prevention are more likely to use hearing protectors at work or in their private lives.
See also: Prelingual deafness
In children, hearing loss can lead to social isolation for several reasons. First, the child experiences delayed social development that is in large part tied to delayed language acquisition. It is also directly tied to their inability to pick up auditory social cues. This can result in a deaf person becoming generally irritable. A child who uses sign language, or identifies with the Deaf sub-culture does not generally experience this isolation, particularly if he/she attends a school for the deaf, but may conversely experience isolation from his parents if they do not know sign language. A child who is exclusively or predominantly oral (using speech for communication) can experience social isolation from his or her hearing peers, particularly if no one takes the time to explicitly teach her social skills that other children acquire independently by virtue of having normal hearing. Finally, a child who has a severe impairment and uses some sign language may be rejected by Deaf peers, because of an understandable hesitation in abandoning the use of existent verbal and speech-reading skills. Some in the Deaf community can view this as a rejection of their own culture and its mores, and therefore will reject the individual preemptively.
See also: Post-lingual deafness
Those who lose their hearing later in life, such as in late adolescence or adulthood, face their own challenges, living with the adaptations that make it possible for them to live independently. They may have to adapt to using hearing aids or a cochlear implant, develop speech-reading skills, and/or learn sign language. The affected person may need to use a TTY (teletype), interpreter, or relay service to communicate over the telephone. Loneliness and depression can arise as a result of isolation (from the inability to communicate with friends and loved ones) and difficulty in accepting their disability. The challenge is made greater by the need for those around them to adapt to the person's hearing loss.
Many relationships can suffer because of emotional conflicts that occur when there are general miscommunications between family members. Generally, it's not only the person with a hearing disability that feels isolated, but others around them who feel they are not being "heard" or paid attention to, especially when the hearing loss has been gradual. Many people opt not to choose hearing aids for fear of looking old, since hearing loss is usually associated with old age, which equals ineffectiveness in some societies. Family members then feel as if their hearing loss partner doesn't care about them enough to make changes to reduce their disability and make it easier to communicate.
Those who are hearing disabled do have access to a free and appropriate public education. If a child does qualify as being hearing impaired and receives an individualized education plan, the IEP team must consider, “the child’s language and communication needs. The IEP must include opportunities for direct communication with peers and professionals. It must also include the student’s academic level, and finally must include the students full range of needs” The government also distinguishes between deafness from hearing loss. The U.S. Department of Education states that deafness is hearing that is so severe that a person cannot process any type of oral information even if that person have a hearing device. The U.S. Department of Education states that a hearing impairment is when a person’s education is effected by how much that person is able to hear. This definition is not included under the term deafness. In order for a person to qualify for special services, the person’s has to hear more than 20 decibels and their educational performance must be affected by their hearing loss. This is what the government has to say about governmental policies and individualized services.
Because a hearing impairment is a disability that is prevalent in many children throughout the United States today, one may be asking themselves what is the best schooling environment for these students. There have been many mixed opinions on the subject between those who live in Deaf communities, and those who have deaf family members who do not live in Deaf communities. Deaf communities are those communities where there are no other forms of language typically spoken except for American Sign Language. Most parents who have a child with a hearing impairment want their child to be in the least restrictive environment of their school. That is to say that these parents want their children to be educated in a general education classroom as much as possible. However, there are those parents who live in Deaf communities who feel that the general education classroom is not the least restrictive environment for their child. These parents feel that placing their child in a residential school where all children are deaf may be more appropriate for their child. One reason that these parents feel a residential school may be more appropriate is because in a general education classroom, the student will not be able to communicate with their classmates because the child’s classmates may not understand ASL. In a residential school where all the children know the same language, students will be able to interact normally with other students, without having to worry about being criticized. Although this may be true, one reason why inclusion may be beneficial for children is because they will have the opportunity to increase their social skills by interacting with other students without disabilities. Through interacting with these students, children with hearing disabilities can expose themselves to other cultures which in the future may be beneficial for them when it comes to finding jobs and living on their own in a society where their disability may put them in the minority. Also, with being in an inclusive classroom, hearing impaired students are able to immerse themselves in a new culture, while also being able to receive the accommodations and modifications that they need in order to be successful in the classroom. These are some of the major reasons why a person may or may not want to put their child in an inclusion or pull out classroom and some of the issues that go along with it.
These categories may overlap.