Around 3.6 million people in Australia experience some form of hearing loss (Department of Health and Aged Care, 2022). Hearing loss may be temporary or permanent. Loss can be experienced as part of the ageing process, may already be present at birth, or may be acquired due to an illness or exposure incident. The severity of loss can also differ from mild to profound.

To reflect this spectrum, the Deafness Forum Australia recommends a range of terms to describe the differing levels of hearing impairment in the community. This includes:

  • deaf (lower-case ‘d’) – a general term used to describe the physical condition of not hearing.
  • Hearing impaired – a term used to describe people who have lost hearing acuity at a stage in their life or lives or over time, such as through the natural ageing process. These people listen and speak with the aid of a hearing device. Some can lip-read and some use sign language.
  • Hard of hearing – an international phrase used to describe acquired hearing loss.
  • Hearing loss – an informal term to describe diminishing hearing activity.
  • Deaf (capital ‘D’) – most often describes people who identify themselves as culturally Deaf and who communicate principally in sign language (DFA, 2019).

For clarity, throughout this review we use the term ‘hearing impaired’ to capture the range of hearing loss experienced in the community.

The link between hearing loss and involvement in the criminal justice system

In recent years there has been increased discussion around the link between hearing loss and involvement in the criminal justice system. Hearing loss can have a negative impact on a young person’s learning, self-esteem, and social skills (Senate Community Affairs References Committee, 2010). This can increase the risk of unemployment, low-educational attainment, and alcohol and other substance abuse, which are risk factors that may lead to criminal activity (HE, et al., 2019).

Hearing loss can also contribute to communication difficulties during criminal justice processes. This is in addition to linguistic and cultural differences that may impede a First Nations persons understanding of, or demeanor during, court processes (Senate Community Affairs References Committee, 2010). Similarly, hearing difficulties may impede a person’s journey through prison – impacting their relationship with other prisoners and staff, and their ability to participate in rehabilitative activities.

Given the overrepresentation of First Nations people in custody in Western Australia, and the prevalence of hearing loss in these communities, it is important the Department of Justice has systems in place to identify and appropriately manage hearing-impaired people.


Page last updated: November 13, 2023
People in custody with a hearing impairment