Wednesday, January 26, 2011


One of the most commonly asked questions from students who just started learning about Deaf culture is, “Why is the word ‘deaf’ sometimes spelled with a capital ‘D’ and sometimes with a lowercase? Which is it?” Good question! Especially for people like me who put correct grammar and writing skills on a pedestal.

The concept is pretty simple. The lowercase “d” is used when speaking about a person’s audiological ability to hear. For example, “That woman is deaf in one ear.” It has nothing to do with culture and ways of thinking. It’s simply a way to describe a person’s severe to profound hearing loss.

But then in walks Deaf with a capital “D.” What does that mean? Well, just because a person is deaf (audiologically speaking), does not automatically make her Deaf (culturally speaking). A capital “D” is used to indicate that a person is part of the Deaf community and has grown up in that culture. It tells people that you’re fine with and happy to be audiologically deaf and you are also involved in the Deaf Community.

Here’s a few scenarios…

John was born deaf to Deaf parents. He was raised in their culture, with their language, and is comfortable and proud to be Deaf.  John is Deaf with a capital D.

Melissa was born hearing, but, at the age of two, was stricken with meningitis, which deafened her. She had not yet started talking. Her parents were hearing, but educated themselves on how to work with a baby who cannot hear. They learned sign language, albeit English word order, and put Melissa in a mainstream classroom with other deaf and hard of hearing individuals. Melissa then grew up to be proud of her origin and is considered Deaf.

Larry was born hearing and didn’t have any problems until he turned forty-five. At that time, he was in a car accident and lost all of his hearing. He uses lipreading and speech to communicate and is isolated from the Deaf World because he feels he doesn’t belong there. Larry is deaf (lowercase), but not Deaf.

Lastly, look at Susie. She is hearing, but both of her parents are Deaf. She was raised in both the Deaf culture at home and the Hearing culture at school. However, her heart is truly in the Deaf World. Susie, although not audiologically deaf, is considered Deaf with a capital D. She is able to sign fluently and is involved with the Deaf community all the time.  She is a CODA (Child of Deaf Adults) and is culturally Deaf.


Many people are audiologically deaf, but do not participate in the Deaf community. This happens often with Late Deafened Adults. Perhaps they don’t feel they have anything in common with those who grew up deaf, or maybe they’re uncomfortable with the notion and don’t want to accept it. Most LDAs don’t learn sign language and don’t acknowledge openly that they can’t understand you. Either way, they are audiologically deaf, but not Deaf cultured.

So, as you can see, big D, little d is not as confusing as some make it out to be.

One last thing: It is important to note that being deaf is not enough to be considered Deaf. Most who are culturally Deaf attended schools for the deaf, use ASL as their first language, and enjoy getting involved in the events.

So, which are you?


  1. Replies
    1. Hello to everyone,
      Please let me first say, that I mean absolutely no disrespect to anyone with my statements or questions I may raise. I am a student and am taking my first ASL class this semester, so I am merely trying to gain knowledge and become less ignorant to the world around me. I hope you will all be patient with me. I am taking the class because I teach preschool and I believe learning to sign would greatly benefit the children in my program, especially the infants, toddlers and possibly some children that are on IEP's for behavioral or speech programs. I am trying to understand why there is such a barrier between Big D's and Little d's. It may be the teacher in me, but for lack of a better way of putting it, why can't you all get along? I love the sense of pride that the Big D's feel in who they are, not caring or worrying if they hear or not. They are truly correct, there is nothing wrong with them. On the other hand, the little d's have had an experience that we may not have ever had. They have had something gigantic taken from them, their hearing. They feel stripped of something they valued. Who are we to tell them how they should feel. The Big D'd won't allow us to tell them how to feel, yet they are telling the little d's how they should feel. What if all of a sudden a Big D lost his legs? How would he feel? Could a man with no legs tell him to just get over it? Shouldn't someone who has a similar issue have compassion rather than contempt? I would hope they would be encouraging little d's to join groups and participate rather than to continue to point them out as "little "d" outcasts. I am sure that there are plenty of little d's that just want to continue to fret or bemoan their fate. Some people will be like that no matter what others do to help. But, if you want to be a strong culture that is inclusive and proud, include everyone. That is something to be proud of. Exclusion is ignorant.

    2. I don't see where you're getting that we *don't* get along. This blog was simply to explain what the different capitalizations and such mean. If a Deaf person shuns someone because they're "only deaf" (little d), then that's truly something that Deaf person needs to work out with him or herself. Not all of us are immature, judgemental bullies.

      It's really all a matter of personal preference on how you would refer to yourself (if you "refer" to yourself at all). I don't walk into a group and introduce myself by saying, "Hi, I'm Michele. Big D." In fact, if truth be told, there might even be some people out there who would argue with me and say I can't be a Big D because I wasn't born totally deaf. To them, I would say, "Butt out! You have no say in how I identify myself."

      Again, if there are Big Ds out there that don't get along (as you said) with little d's, that's on them. That's not a group thing where all Big Ds feel that way. I'm sorry you've gotten that impression.

    3. Hi Michele,
      Thank you very much for responding! I am sorry if I am asking a question in the wrong blog area. It looked to me like the right place? Didn't mean any disrespect!! I will say, I like your attitude regarding your choice of Big D/d and not allowing others define you!
      To answer your question about my post, it was not so much of an impression as it was information given out in my ASL class. We were told that Big D's see themselves as a whole culture, and are rightfully, naturally very proud of who they are. However little d's are not proud and are generally not happy with what they would view as their "Situation." Big D's see that as letting down the deaf community as a whole people, as a culture. That my be very, very true. However, my thought was also that if the little d's "situation" was because they had an accident or illness and their hearing were taken away they might have a natural anger and resentment, due to the loss of something they have had since birth, such as sight, sound, legs, arms,etc. Big D's who were born deaf could not know the same sense of loss that a little d might feel, nor could a little d know how a BIG D feels,having never been able to hear. But, as a group who share similar characteristics,and language, meaning a culture, wouldn't you think they would prefer harmony rather than discontentment, and to argue over semantics? The Deaf from birth stronger person should embrace the tender new member of the group and help encourage mobility in their new lifestyle rather than label them as inferior. It seems to me that if a hearing person were to treat either group this way, both would be very offended. It almost feels like a pecking order? I am not saying by any means that ALL BIG D'd or little d's are like this. NOT ALL of ANY group do ANYTHING. But,why is it considered by some the norm? Just like you said, "Truth be told", .... "You can't be a BIG D, because....". Why not?

  2. Everything what you wrote is not accurate.
    D is stand for Deaf oppressive
    d is stand for deaf liberal.

  3. I'm sorry, anonymous, but I respectfully disagree with what you've written. What I've written is what I've been taught as long as I can remember.

  4. I was born deaf with 90 db and was raised colonialized to be like hearing and learned speech just for those that hear but I did not have the social communication modality like other hearing culture people. I learned to function as a one-way street communicator(can speak well but unable to understand what hearing people saying to me unless the hearing person "decoded" enough for me to read lips).

    The I learned sign language at the age of 19 and achieved to have the fluency communication capability with American Sign Language which many deaf people failed to achieve that level and still not understand what the fluency of ASL is all about.

    Then I started my journey into the Deaf culture which many say is Deafhood. Then I became de-colonialized and became to respect the Deaf culture and its community - The Deaf Community.

    Now I am proud to say that I am a genuine Deaf person with a BIG D.

    After I discovered my identity as a Deaf person, I understood all about the oppression with Deaf people and culture by those that don't understand what it is like to be a normal Deaf person having the fluency language which is American Sign Language.

    How true it is when they say, "You have to know ASL to understand ASL.

    Now I understand why we have so much problems with Deaf education.

    It is my calling now to help Deaf babies and their parents to realize that bilingualism: ASL/English will assure that their Deaf child will not be left out in education and social life.

    John Egbert

  5. truth in beginning D mean Deaf family or Graduate from Gallaudet, d mean non deaf family or non graduate from Gallaudet. Later change to D mean part of deaf culture and d mean not part of deaf culture. truth D/d divides. no need D/d. Not need cos it silly. that truth. not like, too bad.

  6. Deaf but not oppressiveJanuary 26, 2011 at 7:36 PM

    D doesn't stand for Deaf oppression. There are some Deaf people who think they are better than deaf and other people but that is not always the case. No need to put all of us Deaf in one box, Anonymous.

  7. Not everyone who is deaf and even some who grew up in the Deaf community wants to identify themselves as Deaf.

    They may be orally taught, benefit from devices such as hearing aids or cochlear implants, or be hard of hearing. They might prefer to identify themselves as HOH, people with hearing impairments or small-d deaf.

    Some of these people felt excluded by the Deaf community for various reasons, so to compensate they may refuse to identify with them.

    Or they may simply identify with and prefer to be with hearing people exclusively, also for various reasons.

    In a free country everyone has options they choose freely, and to change them at will.

    I am culturally Deaf, though I had more oral and mainstream schooling than in sign was a choice made in my teens for social and educational reasons. Later it became a vocational choice as well.

  8. To those colonialized Anonymous,

    You have no credibility of your comment and still have the anger of being a "confused colonialized deaf person"

    Get out of your rut character and join the real of who you can be.

    John Egbert

  9. I consider myself "deAF"

    To be sure, not all D's are oppressive type.

    It seems majority of the oppressive “D” are the byproduct of the collective system where a deaf affinity is an important part of their educational and social culture.

    I notice that there exist a group of persons having superior ASL skill, in some cases, having superior athletic accomplishments tend to oppress many people. They can't be help!

    Whenever a group is operated under the principle of collectivism, it automatically deems those people are part of elite group, boosting false deaf pride among them; consequently, they do not need to have the ability to comprehend and to understand and profit from experience interacting with "non-elite" and different groups... so they tend to retort to gossips, emotions or instinct in which increase the level of oppressive behaviors.

    That could explain why thousand of oppressed "d” people don't contribute anything in values to Gallaudet, its alumni associations, and other “D”eaf associations.

    It is sort of a Stockholm syndrome, most of the oppressive “D” people were confined within a residential school system when they may have been threatened badly by the oppressive ”D” captors (e.g. Deaf headmasters/Deaf residential counselors/militant DoD) but are shown acts of kindness by their captors to make sure that the deaf affinity is alive and well in their daily life.

  10. not everyone who is Deaf attends or attended Gallaudet either anony.

    Michele: I enjoyed your post and thought you explained D/deaf perfectly well.
    I am deaf. I didn't become deaf until I was 9 and the only one in my family who is so. I was mainstreamed and used hearing aids and speechreading to communicate.
    It wasn't until ASL was introduced to me as a teen, that my life changed.
    I never identified with Deaf Community because I did not have any deaf/hoh to identify with.

    We have the right to identify with big D, little d...whatever we is our choice.
    I also agree with Dianerez's comment above.

    Great post ;)

  11. Thank you for the compliment, Kymberley! Sounds like we have a lot in common as far as our Deafhood goes.

  12. Michele, thank you so much for explaining this topic for us 'hearies'.

  13. As a deaf (little d) person, I found this post helpful. I hope you don't mind me using it to explain D/deaf in my own blog post:

    Unlike most deaf people, I was born with hearing loss between 80db - 100db. I was raised by hearing parents to live in the hearing world. I didn't have the choice of being Deaf. My family, friends, wife and children are all hearing. These are all emotional connections that make my life worth living, and explain why I continue to be deaf. I'm not Deaf because I don't like the Deaf Community. For me to become Deaf will require a huge amount of time in learning the language, culture and making new friendships from scratch. With a young family I don't have very much spare time. But I've noticed that my hearing is getting worse, so maybe in the future I will become Deaf?...

    1. I believe you should learn all of the nuances of the people you don't want to identify with, because some time or another they'll need to understand you and some are completely deaf.

      I wish to learn BSL as "almost" a code between me (hearing) and Sam D (half'n'half as I call it, mainstreamed, may or may not be Deaf) and maybe also a CODA that I do not know about. Right now I know ABEHIOTU. And let me introduce you to a new term DCOHA - you know it as a deaf child with hearing parents, but it means "Deaf child of Hearing Adults" and is pronounced dee-coh-ha. What-evah! So let's say I'd be kind of scared if I went deaf. I'd have to teach Daisy, my hearing and blind friend sign language for the deafblind, and I'd identify as having just a few dB less hearing than I do have, with a threshold for calling it complete deafness of about 70db of deafness as I talk just louder than that so would not be able to understand myself, or enjoy tranquility. I'd probably need learn all those nuances (want to anyway to help bridge the gap between deaf, deafblind, blind, haptic impaired and sensoritypical people) no matter whether it were merely 2dB or anything as bad as 40-90dB. Can anyone who has ever experienced temporary deafness explain how it occurred so if it is legal in the UK and has no other effects I could MAYBE try it? EOM

    2. Jack, thanks for educating me. I'm afraid that I know nothing about British law. Hopefully someone will chime in here!

  14. Hi! I am currently writing a report on the represention of the deaf community in moving images for my Media coursework. I am wondering if I am writing deaf community wrong...should the deaf have a small d or a big D. Sorry for the hassle but I really want to get it right.

  15. If you're talking about the community, I suggest using lowercase "d", but I've seen it both ways (deaf community, Deaf community). Since everyone in the community of deaf people are not capital D (cultureally Deaf), then I would go with lowercase. That's just my opinion though.

  16. Anonymous, try as you might you will never understand the deaf culture if you are not friends with the deaf. Everything you said is completely incorrect. The only way to know them and to understand their culture is to get involved with a deaf group. Make them your friends, go places with them, go to the movies with them. Go over to their homes and be a part of their lives like you do hearing people. No matter how much ASL you learn or will still never understand their culture. Like it or not they have their own culture and the hearing are not a part of that. It is completely different than ours. I am an interpreter and have so many deaf friends. It took them a long time to come to trust me, to know that I actually love them and want good things for them. But once they did I am so much richer than others. They are a fantastic people with a beautiful language. So....forget everything you have just said and go to the source to learn.