Outsiders in London


DEAFNESS, Hearing Impairment or hearing Loss

‘Deafness’, ‘hearing impairment’ or ‘hearing loss’ is the partial or total inability to hear.   There are almost 10 million people in the UK with some hearing loss - this number is expected to increase to almost 14 million - and of these, over 800,000 people are severely or profoundly deaf.   Around 40% of the over 50’s and more than 70% of those over 70 have some form of hearing loss.  There are approximately 356,000 people in the UK with combined visual and hearing impairment.

Noise is the cause of approximately half of all cases of hearing loss:  aircraft and traffic noise, loud music, industrial and equipment noise, etc.   In the US, over 13% of young people aged between 16 and 19 have permanent hearing loss, largely due to extended exposure to very loud music on personal stereo systems. 

Hearing impairment can be inherited.   There are two different forms of genetic deafness, syndromic and non-syndromic.   Syndromic deafness occurs in individuals who have other medical problems aside from deafness and this accounts for around 30% of genetically deaf individuals.     Syndromic cases occur with diseases such as Usher’s Syndrome, Stickler Syndrome, Waardenburg Syndrome, Alport’s Syndrome and Neurofribromatosis Type 2.   These are diseases where deafness is one of the symptoms or a feature commonly associated with the condition.   The genetics that occasion these various diseases are very complicated and, because their causes are as yet unknown, very difficult to explain scientifically.   Non-syndromic deafness occurs when there are no problems other than the deafness and, of those suffering genetic deafness, this accounts for the other 70% of cases, ie the vast majority of those with hereditary hearing loss.   In non-syndromic cases, where deafness is the only ‘symptom’ seen in an individual, it is easier to pinpoint the gene(s) responsible.

Hearing loss can also be caused by illnesses suffered during life, such as Meningitis, Measles, Mumps, various auto-immune conditions, stroke etc, and physical trauma can, of course, impair hearing through damage caused to the ear or to the brain itself.   People who sustain a serious head injury are especially vulnerable to hearing loss or tinnitus, which may be either temporary or permanent.

Deaf people are considered disabled and are thus entitled to the protection of the provisions of the Disability Discrimination Act; nevertheless, they are still more likely to be unemployed than people who can hear.   Even in employment, a third of deaf people are likely to be earning less than £10,000 per annum.   While access to various services continues to improve, and general attitudes towards deaf people are changing in a positive way, the lives of deaf people continue to be filled with daily impediments and frustrations. 

On the other hand, there are ‘Deaf Activists’ who argue that deafness is not a disability;  they recognise that there are disadvantages to being deaf but assert that these are primarily the product of overt and covert discrimination, not of the condition itself.

Whilst the march of technology, especially the internet, has brought many improvements to deaf people, and further improvements in the field of communications will no doubt be achieved, we can assume that the deaf are likely to be at a disadvantage for some time to come.

Action on Hearing Loss formally known as Royal National Instate for Deaf People (RNID) might have changed their name but their mission remains the same: they want a world where hearing loss doesn’t limit or label people, where tinnitus is silenced – and where people value and look after their hearing.

They can be contacted on the Web at:


Sense is an support organisation for people with Usher syndrome.

They can be contacted on the web at: 


Updated 30th July 2013

The purpose of these notes is, in the spirit of education, to provide the reader with some additional information about specific topics covered in the sitters’ interviews and to draw together statistical, sociological and other relevant data which could not easily be incorporated into the records of the interviews themselves.

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