In the most important ways that matter, hearing impairment is generally considered to be a disability, depending on how severe the hearing loss is. That’s especially important as it relates to Social Security regulations and the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). Under the ADA, for example, you are granted certain protections that relate to hearing impairment disabilities. Under Social Security rules, you may be entitled to disability benefits.
Commonly Asked Questions About Hearing Impairment and Disability
Unfortunately, laws surrounding disability classifications can be a little… Byzantine (to say nothing of the cultural norms that inform those laws). So, it’s understandable that there are always a few questions. Questions such as:
What Type of Disability is Hearing Impairment?
Different organizations classify disability differently. For example, the World Health Organization (WHO) breaks down the definition of disability into three categories:
- Impairment: This involves the physical structure of the body.
- Activity Limitation: Any typical activity that is limited. Difficulty hearing falls under this category.
- Participation Restriction: This is the idea that either you or society curtails your involvement in certain activities or behaviors.
Hearing impairment tends to fall rather squarely into all three of those criteria.
Other organizations break it down by the level of your hearing loss. The exact classification of disability that would attach to your hearing impairment will be determined by your precise diagnosis. Generally speaking, hearing impairment is broken down into four categories: mild, moderate, severe, and profound (the last of which would encompass total deafness).
What Percent of Hearing Loss Qualifies for Disability?
The big question here is not if hearing loss qualifies as a disability, but when (or at what level). Most hearing loss is degenerative (though the right treatment can slow continued damage to a crawl). So at what point does it become a disability? Unfortunately, it depends on who you ask and why.
Take social security, for example. In order to qualify for social security benefits your hearing loss must reach one of the following thresholds:
- Average hearing threshold must be below 90 dB when measured by air conduction.
- Average hearing threshold must be below 60 dB when measured by bone conduction.
- Failure to repeat at least 40% of words in a word recognition test.
Once you’ve reached any of those three thresholds, you may qualify for social security disability benefits because of your hearing loss (dependent on other criteria, of course).
Is Wearing a Hearing Aid Classified as a Disability?
The hearing tests and thresholds you must undergo to prove your eligibility for social security disability benefits are performed without the use of a hearing aid. However, wearing a hearing aid itself is not classified by the ADA or SSA as a disability.
In some cases, you’ll want to wear hearing aids for very low-level hearing loss–a hearing impairment that might be below that SSA “disability” threshold. So, a hearing aid is something that can assist you with your disability, but wearing one does not automatically confer that status as disabled–at least, not according parts of the United States government.
Disability and Protection
Unless we’ve had personal experiences to the contrary, we tend to have a somewhat comical and exaggerated idea of what constitutes a disability in this country. Suffice it to say, those disabilities that are difficult to see are often ignored, rendered nearly invisible.
So it’s important to take time to think about your hearing loss. Any hearing loss should be treated as it has been shown to adversely affect your health over time. Periodically get your hearing tested to make sure you don’t need more significant treatments, and protect yourself from further hearing loss.