Glossary of Terms

American Sign Language (ASL): Language used by Deaf and Hard of Hearing people throughout the United States and in many parts of Canada.  ASL operates with its own visual-spatial grammar, vocabulary and syntax separate from that of English, and was recognized officially as a natural language in the 1960s. To read answers to FAQs about ASL, click here

Audiogram: The standard hearing test used to diagnose hearing loss.  A listener may be asked to raise their had or otherwise indicate when he or she has heard a sound.  An audiogram graph is then used to chart results and measure a person's hearing loss. The audiogram illustrates the softest decibel level a listener can detect sound at different frequencies.

Auditory Brainstem Response (ABR): A neurological test used to measure hearing loss by testing auditory brainstem function response.  The listener will be fitted with headphones and surface electrodes placed on the head to measure the brain's reaction to sound.  Unlike an audiogram, the ABR records brainwave response and therefore does not require listener participation; because of this the ABR can be used on infants and small children as well as other uncooperative participants, or as part of a routine hearing evaluation in conjunction with traditional audiometry testing.

Audism: A type of discrimination based on how well a person hears or speaks.

BAHA Impant: Abbreviation for "Bone-Anchored Hearing Aid," a BAHA is an implanted device usually used to treat conductive hearing loss. For more information, see our post about BAHA implants here.

Bilingualism/Biculturalism (Bi-Bi): An educational philosophy that suggests Deaf individuals should learn ASL as their first and natural language and then learn written and, if possible, spoken English. The goal for an ASL-English bilingualist is to reach equal fluency in both languages, and therefore be able to move comfortably between Deaf and hearing cultures.

Cochlear Implant (CI):An electronic device consisting of electrodes surgically implanted inside the head of the user, and an external microphone receiver and processor.  A CI is used only in cases of severe to profound hearing loss. Users are able to recognize some sound and often speech sounds,but the effectiveness of CIs vary widely from person to person depending on a variety of factors, including age of implantation, rigor of auditory-verbal training, equipment function, and other physiological and linguistic modal circumstances. The CI is controversial in the Deaf community because of its surgical permanence as compared to removable hearing aids, and because it is often touted by surgeons as a "cure for deafness."

CODA: Abbreviation for "Child of a Deaf Adult." Usually used to refer to a hearing child who grows up with one or more Deaf parents. Often a CODA's first language is ASL, thus CODAs often identify strongly with Deaf culture and are an active part of the Deaf Community. To read one man's account of growing up CODA, check out his guest post here

Cued Speech: A phonemic system utilizing handshapes to and locations around the face and mouth to represent sounds in spoken language used as a supplement to lipreading.  Invented at Gallaudet University in 1966. To view a chart of the cued speech handshapes, click here.

deaf/ deafness: Partially or completely lacking in the sense of hearing.

Deaf: To be deaf and identify oneself as a member of the Deaf community, usually using ASL as one's primary means of communication.

DeafBlindness: Also deafblind or deaf-blind. A person who is DeafBlind has little or no usable hearing or sight. About fifty percent of the deafblind population has lost their hearing and sight due to the genetic condition Usher Syndrome.  The definition of deafblindness according to the federal government with respect to special education is as follows: a deafblind person experiences concomitant hearing and visual impairments, the combination of which causes such sever communication and other developmental and educational needs that they cannot be accommodated in special education programs solely for children with deafness or children with blindness.

Deaf Community/Deaf Culture: A group made up of individuals self-identifying as belonging to the community and using ASL as the primary mode of communication.  Deaf community members may be Deaf and Hard of Hearing people, Children of Deaf Adults (CODAs), and ASL interpreters or students.

FM System: Type of electronic listening device that usually consists of a microphone worn by the speaker and a receiving loop worn by the listener.  The system transmits the sound picked up by the microphone wirelessly to the receiver using FM signals, sending speech from the microphone directly into the listener's headphones/hearing aids.  FM systems are often used by students in classrooms to eliminate background noise and provide additional amplification of the teacher's voice.
Hard of Hearing: The Deaf community's preferred term for having a hearing loss (as opposed to "hearing impaired"). The difference between deaf and hard of hearing varies mainly due to a person's self-identification, but one popular cutoff point suggests if a person can use the phone he or she is hard of hearing, if not, he or she is deaf.

Hearing Aid: A small electronic device worn behind and/or in the ear equipped with a microphone to receive and amplify sound.

Mainstream Education/ Mainstreaming: When a d/Deaf student is included in a classroom setting with hearing peers, with varying degrees of support/accommodation.

Oral Method/ Oralism: An educational philosophy that emphasizes auditory-verbal skills through lipreading training, speech therapy and use of assistive technologies. Oral programs often discourage or prohibit students from using sign language. Also sometimes called the Auditory-Verbal Method.

Otoacoustic Emission: Noninvasive test used to measure hearing loss without relying on the patient's conscious ability to respond.  Often used on infants and small children, during an otoacoustic emissions test, a tone is played in the patient's ear via earphone, and a small microphone picks up the echo that is reflected back through the ear canal of a person with normal hearing.  If a person has hearing loss, a diminished or no echo occurs. 

Residual Hearing: Any hearing ability left over after a hearing loss.  Deaf people with residual hearing may utilize hearing aids or other assistive technology to access some sound and help with lipreading.

Sign Language: A language that uses manual, body movements and facial expressions to express vocabulary, grammar and syntax visually.  Due to their visual-spatial natures, signed languages are the only languages that deaf and hard of hearing people have one hundred percent access to, even with the use of assistive technology.  Just as there are many spoken languages, there are hundreds of sign languages used throughout the world today.  Because signed languages develop naturally, there is no universal sign language, and signed languages do not necessarily correspond with the spoken languages of any area.

Signed English/Signing Exact English (SEE): A sign system borrowing signs from ASL and other signed systems but following English grammar and syntax.  SEE is an artificially created signed system used mostly in conjunction with spoken English, not a naturally occurring language.

Tactile Sign Language: A method of understanding sign language using the sense of touch.  In a tactile sign language conversation, the receiver places his or her hands over the signer, and feels the handshapes and movement to understand the signs.  In addition to reading the ASL manual alphabet in this way, some people may also use the two-handed BSL alphabet, the Lorm alphabet, or Block printing to place signs or trace letters into the palm of a deafblind person.

Telecoil: A coil of wire that receives magnetic signals representing sound, and are used in hearing aids and cochlear implants as supplemental input devices.  A cochlear implant or hearing aid user might switch to telecoil mode to use an FM system or talk on the phone in order to eliminate background noise.

Videophone: A communication device utilizing the internet and video technology that allows deaf people to make phone calls with one another and to hearing people.  When calling a standard phone, the deaf person is connected with a video relay interpreter; the deaf person then signs to the interpreter, who voices to the hearing person, then translates the spoken response into sign language.  Both videophones and a number of text-based relay services are available on the internet and through smartphone applications are generally considered better and more efficient than Teletypewriters (TTYs), landline-based text relay devices which are rapidly becoming obsolete.

UNHS: Abbreviation for Universal Newborn Hearing Screening. The noninvasive and often mandatory test is performed on infants before leaving the hospital measuring their auditory brainstem response or otoacoustic emissions. To read answers to FAQs about the UNHS, click here.


  1. Important for many please - add Captioning to the list of terms, e.g.
    "Captioning (real-time captioning) is the immediate conversion of speech and sounds into readable text to provide communication access for millions who use captioning due to hearing, deaf, learning, or language differences."

    Optional: Sign Language, if translated into the language of the country, can be captioned as well. Called captioning or CART or STTR (translation or speech-to-text), it is a vital language for millions of deaf, deafened, and people with hearing loss. or

    1. P.S. wanted to edit please -
      Captioning (and Subtitles) is....

  2. Of course, it easier when you are writing in the language that you grew up speaking. While many of us who may read this post grew up speaking English

    Reading skills for IELTS


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