Deafness is defined as a partial or total inability to perceive or understand sound, and currently affects an estimated one in five people in the UK (Action on Hearing Loss, 2019).
Deafness is defined within four categories:
- severe and
- profound (WHO, 2019).
There are many types and causes of hearing loss and deafness (Action on Hearing Loss), including:
- age-related hearing loss
- sudden hearing loss
- noise-induced hearing loss
- genetic hearing loss and deafness
- ototoxic drugs and hearing loss
- acoustic neuroma.
There are approximately 11 million deaf people in the UK, and around 4.4 million of these are of childbearing age. It is estimated that there are 900,000 adults in England and Wales with severe or profound deafness with an estimated 24,000 people reporting using British Sign Language (BSL) as their first language (AoHL, 2019; Emond et al, 2014).
Tinnitus, defined as hearing noises not caused by an external source, may also affect ability to hear and onset in pregnancy is common. It affects one in three pregnant women versus one in eight to ten people in the general population, see: tinnitus and pregnancy.
It is generally accepted that terms like “hearing impaired”, although common in the medical literature, should be avoided with deaf women and their families, see: The difference between deaf and hard of hearing and What is the difference between a person who is “deaf,” “Deaf,” or “hard of hearing”?
Depending on the cause and onset of deafness, there are several treatments and aids deaf people may use. Treatments include blockage removal, for example, earwax. Aids include external hearing aids or implants: Bone anchored, Middle Ear, Cochlear or Auditory Brainstem.
Deaf and hard of hearing people communicate in several ways and the Equality Act 2010, supported by the Accessible Information Standards, state that a woman’s preferred communication method should be asked for, documented and provided. This may include being aware of how to support lip reading, use a T-loop, book a sign language interpreter or lip speaker, write in plain English, among other methods.