Hearing (or auditory) disabilities are usually defined by a decreased ability or total inability to hear (deafness).
Individuals who are hard of hearing, or don’t hear well, and individuals who are unable to hear, or are deaf, would typically be considered to have a hearing disability. Hearing impairment or loss can be congenital, can happen over time, can occur later in life, can be the result of injury or aging, can be in one ear or both, can be temporary or permanent, or can be caused by any number of factors.
Types and degrees of hearing loss and disabilities
There are typically considered to be four types of hearing loss:
- Conductive hearing loss: This occurs when sound is blocked from getting through the outer ear canal and middle ear.
- Sensorineural hearing loss: This occurs when there is damage to the spiral ganglion, or nerves or hair cells in the inner ear.
- Mixed hearing loss: Also called combined hearing loss, this occurs when there is both conductive and sensorineural hearing loss.
- Auditory neuropathy: This occurs when sound enters and is processed by the ear without obstruction, but isn’t transmitted to the brain in a way it can understand.
Hearing loss can be mild, moderate, moderately severe, severe, or profound, according to Hearing Health Foundation: Degrees of Hearing Loss.
Hearing disability statistics
Statistics and measurements on disability always vary according to the definitions and reporting methods used. In general, the prevalence of hearing disability increases with age.
Key metrics on hearing disability:
- 3 million adults (16.5% of the noninstitutionalized adult population) in the United States have hearing trouble. (CDC)
- One-third of Americans age 65 and older have hearing loss, and almost half of Americans age 75 and older have hearing loss (Source: Hearing Health Foundation)
- One-fifth of Americans age 12 and older have hearing loss, and one-eighth have hearing loss in both ears. (Source: Hearing Health Foundation)
- Hearing loss is one of the most common military service-connected disabilities (Source: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs)
- More than 90% of children who are deaf have parents who can hear. (Source: National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD)).