Hearing Loss in America by the Numbers

Why are closed captioning services a big deal? Maybe you don’t know anyone with a significant hearing deficit. Or do you? According to the National Institute for Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), approximately 15% of American adults (37.5 million people) aged 18 and over report some hearing difficulty. About two percent of adults aged 45 to 54 have disabling hearing loss, increasing to 8.5% for adults from 55 to 64, 25% for adults aged 65 to 74, and 50% for American adults aged 75 and older. In addition, the NIDCD estimates that approximately 15% of Americans (26 million people) between the ages of 20 and 69 have high-frequency hearing loss due to exposure to noise at work or during leisure activities.

As life expectancy continues to lengthen in the United States, it can be expected that more and more people diagnosed with substantial hearing loss will be affected by communication deficits over longer periods of time. So, what are their communication options? Reading and writing, certainly, but more and more people are eschewing print media for television and the Internet to meet their information needs. It’s quite likely a substantial number of people with hearing difficulties will learn American Sign Language, but ASL has limited availability.

What about hearing aids? Definitely some people will enhance their communication ability with hearing aids. But due to various reasons (e.g., cost, stigma, physical discomfort), only 30% of those over the age of 70 who could benefit from hearing aids actually use them, according to the NIDCD, and the percentage drops even more for younger adults. This equates to tens of millions of American adults with hearing deficits inadequately addressed by current communication modalities.

In addition, United States law now requires closed captioning services be made accessible for all programming produced by streaming video services and must be provided by broadcasters for all content distributed across the Internet if captioned when originally presented on-air (although in many cases, closed captioning services are still not available for some programs).

When more and more people are looking to electronic media for their news and information needs, the importance of greater accessibility and transparency is clear.