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Hearing privilege is a term used by Deaf people to describe the actions of hearing people that exploits the non-hearing group. It is incredible how many things hearing people do that discriminate against Deaf and Hard of Hearing individuals. Going to the movies, being taught in one’s natural language, ease of contacting authorities in emergency situations, and simply communicating with one’s family are a few of the many examples of hearing privileges prevalent today. By raising awareness of these privileges, we can eradicate the discrimination faced by Deaf and Hard of Hearing individuals daily, and give them full access to the world.


As hearing people, we are able, and have been able, to participate freely in entertainment such as going to the movies whenever we want. This is a privilege that Deaf people have fought hard to have access to. Closed captioning became required through laws such as the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) in 1990 and the Americans with Disabilities Act also in 1990 (Significant Federal Laws Regarding Communication Access PP). However, these acts focused mainly on providing captioning in educational and vocational settings. It wasn’t until 1996 when the National Association of the Deaf advocated for captioning in theaters through the Coalition for Movie Captioning that theaters began offering captioning for their Deaf and Hard of Hearing customers (NAD 2016). This was a great success, but because only about 1% of movies shown today have captions, it is still a work in progress (NAD 2016).

Experience Closed Captioning in Theaters

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Mainstream Schooling

As hearing individuals, most of us are taught through our first language, or are taught through a bilingual program. This is not the case for most Deaf and hard of hearing people. Ninety percent of Deaf/Hard of Hearing students are taught in mainstreamed schools as opposed to Deaf schools (Holcomb, 39). This is due to the law passed in 1975, PL 94-142, that required all students to be taught in the most “least restrictive environments”(Significant Federal Laws Regarding Communication Access PP). For Deaf individuals that meant being ripped from a school where ASL and Deaf culture was the norm, and placed in a hearing school in which they were now isolated from both their natural language as well as Deaf peers. Oralism, education through voicing instead of signing, is the predominant mode of education in mainstream settings, so naturally Deaf students struggle through school both academically and communication wise (Milan PP). This is something that hearing people do not have to face.

A First Hand Account of a Mainstream School Setting

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Family Ties

Imagine going home for thanksgiving dinner, your whole family is at the dinner table. Everyone is laughing and enjoying catching up with family members they haven’t seen in awhile. This may prove to be difficult when your whole family speaks a completely different language and you are left sitting in confusion and alone. You might be doubting this situation, but believe it or not there are thousands of people who are put through similar situations every day. Did you know that 92% of deaf children are born to hearing parents (More Than Meets the Eye)? This means that many of those children are forced to lip read and to learn how to speak. Their families or guardians spend a lot of time trying to fix the “deaf problem” with hearing aids and surgeries in hopes that they will someday hear. They grow up unable to connect with their family, classmates and community in general. Most people could not imagine not being able to simply express their thoughts and feelings, especially with their own family. Many families look toward an oral approach with their deaf children because it seems easier than learning sign language (More Than Meets the Eye). They don’t understand the benefits of sign language and the ability it gives children to express their thoughts and feelings (Culture and Language PP). This isn’t because those people are bad parents. It may just be that sign language and the Deaf community may not have as big of a presence as perhaps the oral method, cochlear implants and hearing aids do. Just think about how it would feel growing up not being able to enjoy simple conversations with your family. That’s why it is so important to spread awareness about why sign language is so amazing. If every family of a deaf individual took the time to learn sign language, it would make this hearing world a much more enjoyable place for those who hear with their eyes instead of their ears. Click this link to watch a excerpt from a poem titled "For Hearing Parents of Deaf Children".

An Excerpt from a Poem titled "For Hearing Parents of Deaf Children"

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Law Enforcement

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Most of us have been pulled over at least once in our lifetime. Imagine though, being pulled over and not being able to communicate with that officer. He may even become upset, thinking you are simply ignoring his commands. For someone who is Deaf this situation is all too real. In 1991 the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed to help protect the rights of anyone with a disability (Significant Federal Laws Regarding Communication Access PP). This assures that businesses will accommodate to a person’s needs. This includes Deaf people, ensuring that they are provided an interpreter when dealing with doctors, courts and law enforcement. Although when a police officer pulls over a Deaf individual, they are not mandated to have an interpreter, not even through a video phone. “For example, it may be impossible to provide interpreter services when a police officer stops your car for a routine traffic violation.” (NAD, police and law enforcement) A tragic example is from a man in North Carolina named Daniel Harris. Harris was said to have already been fearful of police officers due to previous misunderstandings (Brennan 2016). The man was being pulled over but continued driving until he reached his home, likely thinking it would safer (Brennan 2016). The officer was shouting commands at the man and when Harris didn’t comply, because he simply couldn’t hear the commands, he was killed (Brennan 2016). This is the type of situation rarely if ever would happen to a hearing person. If we can become more aware of the Deaf community and learn to appropriately communicate with a Deaf individuals we could prevent something like this tragedy from happening again.

In Conclusion . . .

Going to the movies, being taught in one’s natural language, ease of contacting authorities in emergency situations, and simply communicating with one’s family are just a few of the hundreds of hearing privileges that Deaf people face daily. Depending on the individual, where they live, their family situation, and educational setting the discrimination they might face is innumerable. Awareness of these privileges are critical to ending hearing privilege. However, it is also important to know that being hearing is not a negative thing, nor is it something to be ashamed of. What is negative and shameful is discrimination. Help us spread the word and share what you have learned.


#hearingprivilege. Digital image. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Dec. 2016.

“Being a Deaf Student In A Mainstream School.” YouTube, uploaded by Rikki Poynter, 16 June 2016,

Belitz, Stephen, “For Hearing Parents of Deaf Children.” YouTube, uploaded by 4jsabc, 25 August 2009,

Brennan, Christopher. "Deaf Man Shot by N.C. State Trooper Led Officer on 100 Mph." NY Daily News. N.p., 31 Aug. 2016. Web. 04 Dec. 2016.

Cohen-Efron, Amy. Culture and Language. N.p.:.n.p., 2016. PowerPoint

Cohen-Efron, Amy. Milan 1880. N.p.: n.p., 2016. PowerPoint

Cohen-Efron, Amy. Significant Federal Laws Regarding Communication Access. N.p.: n.p., 2016. PowerPoint

“Deaf Teen Can Go To Movies, Thanks To Grandma.” YouTube, uploaded by KETV NewsWatch7, 5 December 2011,

Got priviledge? Digital image. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Dec. 2016.

Holcomb, Thomas K. Introduction to American Deaf Culture. New York: Oxford UP, 2013. 39. Print.

"More Than Meets the Eye." More Than Meets the Eye. Gallaudet University, n.d. Web. 04 Dec. 2016

"Movie Captioning." National Association of the Deaf. NAD, n.d. Web. 1 Dec. 2016

"National Association of the Deaf." Police and Law Enforcement | National Association of the Deaf. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Dec. 2016.

Text to 911. Digital image. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Dec. 2016.

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