Models of Deafness

As humans, we rely on our sense of hearing to gain information, identify our surroundings, and—in general—make it through the day in one piece. While many of us take our sense of hearing for granted, there are a number of individuals who lack this ability completely. In fact, some experts suggest that there are as many as 28 million deaf individuals living in the United States. Over the past several decades, a number of models of deafness have been established, which identify how a deaf individual is viewed and treated. Currently, there are three models of deafness, including those that focus on medical, social, and cultural aspects.

Medical Model of Deafness

In the medical model, being deaf is often viewed as an undesirable trait that should be treated and avoided, if at all possible. In most cases, the medical model of deafness is favored by deaf people who lost their hearing after already mastering spoken language. In addition, deaf people who identify themselves as being either “hearing impaired” or “hard of hearing” may favor the medical model of deafness. Deaf people who subscribe to the medical model of deafness may seek the assistance of hearing aids or undergo invasive surgeries designed to restore their hearing. The acceptance of social welfare and entitlements are also supported by deaf people who adhere to the medical model of deafness.

Social Model of Deafness

The social model of deafness suggests that individuals who are deaf suffer disability as a result of their environment, not of their physical limitations. Social models of deafness often stress the importance of deaf education for individuals diagnosed with the condition, which should ideally start at a very young age. In fact, research suggests that children who receive deaf education starting at the age of four years will have an easier time communicating with both hearing and non-hearing members of the community than those who do not receive similar types of education. Deaf education often focuses on interaction with others who have similar conditions and learning how to navigate in a society that is not designed for the deaf and hard of hearing.

Cultural Model of Deafness

Finally, cultural models of deafness often stress the beauty of being deaf, and view the condition as neither a physical ailment nor disability. The cultural model of deafness is often embraced by many members of the deaf community, who encourage members to be more outspoken on their condition. In the cultural model of deafness, deaf community members view the birth of a deaf child as a cause for celebration, and may travel cross-country to see the new infant. Many outspoken members of the deaf culture are committed to the use and development of sign language as a means of communication. Individuals who commit to the deaf culture model are typically unlikely to seek treatment or management of their condition, and may not receive education designed to improve their functionality in a hearing world.

Individuals who are interested in learning more about deaf culture and the deaf community should review the following web pages: