Overview and facts


These are generally accepted definitions for a person’s hearing loss but please note definitions are not always clear cut.

Regardless of how they identify, individuals may use a combination sign language, speech, hearing aids, cochlear implants, lip reading (synonymously used with speech reading) etc. to communicate effectively. Also, they may or may not use their voice.

  • deaf (lower case ‘d’) - people who have hearing loss, whether at birth or acquired later through injury, disease or associated with ageing. They may communicate orally and may also be users of sign language.
  • Deaf (upper case ‘D’) - deaf individuals who identify as being part of the Deaf community and who communicate almost exclusively with sign language.
  • Hard of hearing - people who have lost some but not all hearing.
  • Hearing impaired - anyone with any level of hearing loss.
  • Acquired hearing loss - people who were born with hearing but have lost some or all of their hearing.
  • Congenital hearing loss - born with hearing loss which may become progressively worse.
  • Deafened - people who were born with hearing and have lost most or all of their hearing later in life.


Facts and figures

  • Globally, over 80% of ear and hearing care needs remain unmet. Over 5% of the world’s population (430 million people) require rehabilitation to address their disabling hearing loss.
  • 12 million adults in the UK are deaf, have hearing loss or tinnitus. That is roughly 10.1 million people in England, 1 million people in Scotland, 610,000 people in Wales and 320,000 people in Northern Ireland.
  • By 2035, we estimate there’ll be around 14.2 million adults with hearing loss greater than 25 dB HL across the UK.
  • 6.7 million could benefit from hearing aids but only about two million people use them.
  • Unassisted hearing loss have a significant impact on older people leading to social isolation, depression, reduced quality of life and loss of independence and mobility.
  • About 12,000 people in the UK use cochlear implants.
  • Many people with hearing loss also have tinnitus which affects one in 10 adults. They may also have balance difficulties.
  • Evidence suggests that people wait on average 10 years before seeking help for their hearing loss.
  • The employment rate for those with hearing loss is 65%, compared to 79% of people with no long-term health issue or disability.
  • Recent estimates suggest that the UK economy loses £25 billion a year in lost productivity and unemployment due to hearing loss.



There are legal requirements around disability rights and access.

Accessible Information Standard (AIS)

From August 2016, all NHS care or other publicly funded adult social care providers must meet the terms of the Accessible Information Standard (section 250 of the Health and Social Care Act 2012).

This legislation is designed to ensure that people with disabilities, impairments or sensory loss can get information in a form they can access and understand and are provided by health and social care providers with the professional communication support services they require.

During CQC inspections, five steps of Accessible Information Standard will be looked at by talking to the staff and people using the service and asking providers how they are meeting the AIS through annual provider information requests/collections:

  • Identify
  • Record
  • Flag
  • Share
  • Meet

Equality Act 2010

Equality Act 2010 (applies in England, Wales, Scotland) combined and replaced previous discrimination legislation, including the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 still remains in Northern Ireland. It offers protection against discrimination to those with protected characteristics. These include age, disability, gender reassignment, race, religion or belief, sex, sexual orientation, marriage and civil partnership, and pregnancy and maternity.

Deafness and Hearing Loss is a disability. To ensure disabled people can use services to a similar standard (as much as possible) as their non-disabled counterparts, service providers are required to make reasonable adjustments.

Recognition of British Sign Language (BSL)

The British Government on 18 March 2003 made a formal statement recognising BSL as a language in its own right.

The British Sign Language (Scotland) Act 2015 acted to promote the use of BSL and making provision for the preparation and publication of a British Sign Language National Plan for Scotland.

The UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (121 KB PDF) includes specific mention of rights to sign language use.


  • Access All Areas Report [PDF] - report into the experiences of people with hearing loss when accessing healthcare including contacting their GP surgery, consultations with medical staff and access to pharmacies.
  • Hearing Matters Report [PDF] - report analysing the scale and impact of hearing loss in the UK and sets out what needs to be done by Government in tackling hearing loss.
  • Sick of It Report - how the health service is failing Deaf people and suggestions as a 'prescription for change'.