What is the significance of spelling distinction made between someone who is 'deaf' and someone who is 'Deaf'?
The use of a lower case ‘d’ for ‘deaf’ refers to people who have a hearing impairment; the use of a capital ‘D’ for ‘Deaf’ refers to those who identify themselves as part of a linguistic and cultural minority group whose first or preferred language is British Sign Language (BSL). The Deaf community is united by shared experiences and history, but most importantly, by BSL. Many people in the Deaf community have Deaf parents, life partner, or children.
BSL is the preferred language of tens of thousands of deaf people in the UK, for whom English may be a second or third language. The British Deaf Association (BDA) states that 70,000 people use BSL as their first language. Others estimate more conservatively at 60,000. It is the fourth most widely used indigenous language in the UK.
The IPSO MORI study suggests there are around 125,000 people in the UK who use BSL in total. This figure also includes the tens of thousands of hearing people who have developed proficiency in BSL and who use the language in their work and in their family lives.
BSL was only recognised as an official British language by the UK government in March 2003 and it does not have any legal protection. This has meant that Deaf people do not have full access to information and services that hearing people take for granted, including education, health and employment.
By contrast many people who are hard of hearing or who have become deaf in later life may not use BSL and may not identify with the culture of the Deaf community. It is estimated that 1 in 7 people in the UK – around 9 million– experience hearing loss.