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As a catch-all term for multiple forms of hearing loss, the actual meaning of the phrase hearing impairment depends largely on the context, as noted by WebMD.

Hearing Impairment as a Technical Term

The Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) defines hearing impairment as "an impairment in hearing, whether permanent or fluctuating, that adversely affects a child’s educational performance but that is not included under the definition of deafness." Deafness, meanwhile, is defined as "a hearing impairment that is so severe that the child is impaired in processing linguistic information through hearing, with or without amplification, that adversely affects a child’s educational performance."

Hearing impairment is also commonly used by medical professionals to describe hearing loss in adults. Interestingly, the Social Security Administration's Blue Book does not directly reference hearing impairment, and instead uses hearing loss

Alternative Terms for Hearing Loss

Many hearing loss advocates, including the National Association of the Deaf, maintain that there are many different ways to discuss hearing loss and deafness, including:  
  • Deaf. One writes deaf with an uppercase D to refer to a community of deaf individuals rather than deafness as a condition.
  • Deafened. Someone who faces deafness as an adult rather than being born with the condition.
  • Hard of hearing. Anyone suffering from any degree of hearing loss. This is largely preferred in most cases.
  • Without hearing. Another way to reference deafness.

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