What Level of Hearing Loss is Considered a Disability?

Does any level of hearing loss automatically mean you’re disabled? 

That’s a question we answered in one of our recent posts, 8 Questions About Hearing Loss You’re Too Afraid To Ask. Since then, we’ve gotten a few more questions on the topic so we wanted to answer them more in-depth.

As we noted in that piece: the link between hearing loss and disability is a complicated topic because of the amount of nuance in terminology that’s involved.

That’s why we’re going to dive deeper into the topic of hearing loss as it relates to disabilities. 

We’ll be defining terminology, explaining the difference between a disability and a handicap, as well as what your next best steps might be if you think you qualify for supplemental income as a result of hearing loss.

First, let’s get our definitions straight.

What Does “Disability” Mean?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by the US Department of Labor defines a disability as "a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities…or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment." 

This includes things like walking, seeing, speaking, breathing, learning, working, and sleeping.

In the case of hearing loss, the severity can largely dictate what people have trouble with.

Hearing loss can result in a host of side effects, both mental and physical. Hearing loss can also have an impact on your income.

This means that they need to wear hearing aids or use assistive listening devices to hear.

What's the Difference Between Disability and Handicap?

Another term that is sometimes used, though less socially accepted, considering hearing loss a handicap.

Often the two terms are used interchangeably. 

This is incorrect as there is a subtle but important difference between them is whether it’s referring to the person themselves or activity that a person might want to accomplish.

To stick with the hearing loss examples, at certain levels, hearing loss can be considered a disability. 

A person with hearing loss trying to listen to a podcast, meanwhile, would be at a handicap compared to someone who had the full range of hearing. This handicap could be overcome with hearing assistance devices and thus enjoy their true-crime podcast like anyone else. 

Obviously, this doesn’t mean the person is no longer considered to have hearing loss, it just means that they can enjoy the same activity with assistance.

Keep in mind that the above definitions are more for understanding the difference between the two terms. 

At Vibe, we stand by person-first terminology and don’t believe in labeling anyone as being disabled or handicapped. Rather, they are a person with hearing loss.

Hearing Loss Disability Benefits

Now that we’ve got our terminology down, let’s return to the original question of whether or not hearing loss is considered a disability. 

The answer requires a hearing test. Anyone who recognizes 60% or less of two syllable words said by an audiologist or other hearing professional during a hearing test can be considered to have hearing loss at a level of disability.

Whether or not one’s disability is at a level that they qualify for additional income support is another matter. In the United States, these programs would include Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

Unfortunately, this question is impossible to answer succinctly. This is because the definition of what level of hearing loss qualifies for a monthly stipend or supplemental income varies widely from place to place.

For more information, check out the SSA website.

What's Next?

There are two ways to determine whether your hearing loss would qualify for any sort of supplemental benefits.

One is through an official diagnosis from a medical professional. If you suspect that your hearing loss is interfering with your ability to navigate your day to day tasks, visit our partners page and schedule a meeting with a hearing care professional today.

Another possible avenue is through self-assessment. Self-assessments are often used when determining eligibility for government benefits though again you would have to refer to the specific local laws where you live.


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