20 Famous Deaf or Hard of Hearing People To Inspire You

Mar 16, 2023

Article by Hearing Partners, contributed by Sadrina Shah, Clinical Audiologist at Hearing Partners
Did you know that over 1.5 billion people worldwide suffer from hearing loss, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO)? 

Hearing loss, or hearing impairment, occurs when a person is unable to hear sounds within the normal threshold of 0 – 20 decibels (dB). This condition is known to be ‘disabling’ when the loss is greater than 35 dB, and can be categorised into partial hearing loss or complete deafness.

Throughout history, numerous deaf or hard-of-hearing people have overcome obstacles in their lives, including their hearing disabilities, to achieve remarkable success. ​​Their accomplishments serve as an inspiration to many others, even today!

From athletes to scientists to celebrities, here’s a list of famous deaf and hard-of-hearing people who’ll remind you that anything is possible with hard work, passion, and determination!

Difference Between Deafness and Hearing Loss

These famous individuals featured below suffer from different degrees of hearing loss. The 5 main degrees are:

  • Mild (26 – 40 dB HL) 
  • Moderate (41 – 55 dB HL)
  • Moderately severe (56 – 70 dB HL)
  • Severe (71 – 90 dB HL)
  • Profound (>91 dB HL)

Some of them have partial (mild to severe) hearing loss while some are deaf (profound). It’s important to note that there’s a difference between the two.

Hearing loss

A person who has a reduced ability to hear sounds as compared to someone with normal hearing thresholds of 20 dB or better in both ears, is said to have hearing loss.

Hearing aids can enhance the quality of life for individuals with mild to severe hearing loss by amplifying the sound waves in the surroundings to make them louder and clearer.

Deafness

Individuals with profound hearing loss are considered deaf, which means they have little to no ability to hear sounds. Oftentimes, the benefits brought by hearing aids to such individuals are limited.

Famous Deaf and Hard of Hearing Athletes

1. Yao Ming

Yao Ming

Source: Forbes

Did you know that the well-known Chinese basketball player is partially deaf in his left ear? Yao Ming revealed in an interview that he has suffered from hearing loss since he was about 8 years old.

Despite his reduced hearing, he went on to have an illustrious career in the National Basketball Association (NBA) and represented the Houston Rockets. He earned 8 All-Star selections and was elected into the Basketball Hall of Fame. 

He’s an inspiration to many to never give up on their goals no matter the obstacles.

2. Laurentia Tan

Degree of hearing loss: Profound
Laurentia Tan

Source: FEI

Laurentia Tan is a Paralympic equestrian athlete from Singapore who has achieved international success despite her disabilities. 

Born with cerebral palsy and profound deafness, she took up horse riding at a young age as a form of physiotherapy. This helped her to gain confidence and improve her self-esteem.

She went on to represent Singapore in international competitions, including the Paralympic Games, where she won several medals.

Famous Deaf and Hard-of-hearing Celebrities

3. Millie Bobby Brown

Degree of hearing loss: Profound (one of her ears)
Millie Bobby Brown
Best known for her incredible performance as Eleven in the Netflix series Stranger Things, Millie Bobby Brown was born with partial hearing loss and eventually became deaf in one ear.

At 8 years old, she was determined to become an actress. Her family even moved to Los Angeles to support her ambition.

Though she can’t fully hear herself when she performs, Brown has never allowed it to shake her confidence when it comes to acting and singing. She believes that as long as you enjoy doing something, you should just do it. Nothing can stop you, not even your listening challenges!

4. Halle Berry

Halle Berry

Source: People

Halle Berry, who made history as the first Black woman to win an Academy Award for Best Actress, lost almost 80% of her hearing in her left ear after a domestic violence incident.

However, that didn’t stop her from pursuing her passion for acting. She’s well known for her roles in Catwoman, Monster Ball and the X-Men film series.

5. Ayumi Hamasaki

Degree of hearing loss: Profound (left ear)
Ayumi Hamasaki

Source: Yahoo Life

Ayumi Hamasaki, the popular J-pop star and best-selling Japanese solo artist of all time, is deaf in her left ear. And the hearing in her right ear is worsening.

In 2001, Hamasaki caught a cold that led to an ear infection. Despite warnings from doctors to avoid exposure to loud noises, she continued to hold concert tours. She suffered from tinnitus during one of her rehearsals but didn’t stop to take a break.

It wasn’t until 2007 that she became concerned about her hearing, but it was a little too late. In the following year, her left ear had gone completely deaf. Yet, that didn’t put a pause on her singing career – her love for the stage pushed her to continue moving forward and creating music.

In 2017, she took several hearing tests and was informed that the hearing in her right ear was deteriorating. She also frequently experienced dizziness and vomiting because her semicircular canals (tubes located in the inner ear that helps to maintain balance) were damaged. 

Despite the challenges faced, Hamasaki hasn’t shown signs of slowing down – she continues to hold concerts and produce new music.

6. Stephen Colbert

Degree of hearing loss: Profound (right ear)
Stephen Colbert
You might be curious to know why Stephen Colbert’s right ear sticks out at an odd angle. Here’s the story.

As a child, American actor and comedian Stephen Colbert had a tumour in his right ear. To remove it safely, doctors had to remove his eardrum as well. His childhood dream of becoming a marine biologist was shattered because his condition prevented him from engaging in scuba diving.

Developing an interest in acting during his college years, he studied to become a dramatic actor and was once an understudy for Steve Carell. Colbert was involved in numerous television projects before succeeding David Letterman to host The Late Show. His other notable works include The Colbert Report and The Daily Show.

In 2020, he was diagnosed with benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV), a condition that causes dizziness when the head moves in certain directions. That hasn’t stopped him from going to work and he continues to stay active in the entertainment industry.

Famous Deaf and Hard-of-hearing Musicians

7. Grimes

Grimes

Source: Data Thistle

Claire Boucher, who goes by the stage name Grimes, is a singer, songwriter and producer. In 2012, hearing loss and tinnitus led her to cancel a number of shows in Canada, as well as her entire European tour. The ringing in her ears even caused her trouble sleeping.

Today, she continues to create and produce music.

8. Eric Clapton

Degree of hearing loss: Severe
Did you know that Eric Clapton, rockstar and multiple Grammy Awards winner, suffers from tinnitus and hearing loss? His habit of playing music at the highest possible volume and prolonged exposure to loud sounds led him to experience noise-induced hearing loss.

Despite his hearing difficulties (and struggles with nerve damage), Clapton remains active as a musician. He now wears hearing aids and practises good habits to protect his ears while performing. He has also advised others to wear earplugs to protect their ears from loud sounds.

9. Ludwig van Beethoven

Degree of hearing loss: Profound
Ludwig Van Beethoven
Known as one of the greatest composers of all time, Ludwig van Beethoven started experiencing hearing loss in his twenties. His hearing continued to deteriorate over the years, and he gradually found himself struggling to hear higher-pitched sounds.

When he was 44 years of age, he had become completely hard of hearing. In fact, he had to pass notes in order to converse with others. Despite his deafness, Beethoven continued to compose music and created some of his greatest works like the 9th Symphony.

Famous Deaf and Hard-of-hearing Politicians

10. Ronald Reagan

Degree of hearing loss: Mild (left ear) and moderate (right ear)
Ronald Reagan
Ronald Reagan was the 40th president of the USA. Before becoming a politician, he was a renowned actor with an illustrious career. During the filming of one of his movies, a pistol was fired in close range of his right ear. This gunshot was the start of his experience with noise-induced hearing loss.

In 1983, years after the incident, former President Reagan was publicly fitted with a custom hearing aid. This led to a decrease in the negative stigma associated with hearing aids at the time.

11. Bill Clinton

Degree of hearing loss: ​​Moderate to severe
Bill Clinton
Bill Clinton is the 2nd president after former President Reagan to wear hearing aids. His hearing difficulties were said to be a result of prolonged exposure to loud noises – hunting, playing the saxophone and engaging in campaign rallies contributed to the onset of his noise-induced hearing loss.

At 51 years old, former President Clinton was fitted with completely-in-the-canal (CIC) hearing aids. He took this opportunity to encourage citizens of a similar age to prioritise their hearing health. He also volunteered with his daughter to provide people in Africa with hearing aids.

Famous Deaf and Hard-of-hearing Inventors and Scientists

12. Thomas Edison

Degree of hearing loss: Profound
Thomas Edison
Thomas Alva Edison is widely regarded as one of the most famous and important inventors in history.

Though he developed hearing loss in one ear and deafness in the other at the age of 12, he didn’t let his reduced hearing hinder him. Rather, he considered it a blessing as he could focus on his research and inventions without any distractions.

During his lifetime, he held over 1,000 patents and invented the incandescent light bulb, motion picture camera and alkaline storage battery, among many others.

13. Robert Grant Aitken

Robert Grant Aitken

Robert Grant Aitken was an American astronomer who made significant contributions to the field of astronomy, particularly in the study of double stars.

As he was frequently sick, Aitken only started school when he was 9 years old. Following a middle ear infection, he became partially deaf. Gradually, his hearing deteriorated and he had to rely on hearing aids and lip reading.

Regardless of his listening challenges, he received an honorary Doctor of Science from the University of the Pacific and Doctor of Laws from the University of California.

During the time of his career, he discovered more than 3,100 binary stars and was awarded the prestigious Bruce Medal for his work.

14. Tilly Edinger

Degree of hearing loss: Severe
Tilly Edinger was one of the founders of paleoneurology, a field that uses fossils to study the evolution of the brain and nervous system. 

During her teenage years, she was diagnosed with otosclerosis. She began losing her hearing and had to rely heavily on hearing aids. Regardless of her reduced hearing, she went on to obtain her PhD and worked in the Senckenberg Museum. 

She was later forced to flee her country after the Nazis came into power. She settled down in the United States of America (USA) and worked in the Museum of Comparative Zoology (MCZ) at Harvard University.

While her life was riddled with challenges, Edinger overcame them and became a highly respected scientist and researcher who made notable contributions to the field of paleoneurology.

Famous Deaf and Hard-of-hearing Dancers

15. Lin Ching Lan

Degree of hearing loss: Severe
Lin Ching Lan was born with severe hearing impairment. In spite of this, she dreamed of doing one thing above all else: dancing.

Time and time again she was told that her hearing impairment made it impossible for her to be a dancer. She refused to give up even when dance schools rejected her.

Believing that she shouldn’t be limited by her inability to hear well, she persevered and went through years of intensive training to realise her passion. She has gone on to win awards at Taipei’s Deaflympic Games and formed Taiwan’s first trope for dancers with hearing impairment.

16. Lark Detweiler

Degree of hearing loss: Profound
Lark Detweiler shows that disabilities don’t define a person. 

Her life changed after she had a bad fever at 18 months old and lost her hearing. When she was 3 years old, her parents enrolled her in ballet class without realising that she was deaf. But soon, they noticed that her speech abilities were weaker than her younger brother’s and brought her to an audiologist who diagnosed her with profound hearing loss.

When she was about 8 years old, she unearthed her passion for dance and remembered her teacher telling her that she didn’t need to hear in order to dance. Following her dream, she became a senior in the Newbury Park Dance Team. 

Through dancing, she’s also able to tap into her emotions and express them in a way that words often cannot.

17. Shaheem Sanchez

Shaheem Sanchez

Source: IMDb

Despite losing his hearing at the age of 4, TikTok star Shaheem Sanchez taught himself how to dance and refused to let his deafness hold him back. He learned how to feel music through vibrations and used them to guide his movements.

Using his talents, Sanchez aims to show others in the deaf community that they can accomplish any dream despite being unable to hear well.

Famous Deaf and Hard-of-hearing Authors

18. Helen Keller

Degree of hearing loss: Profound
Helen Keller

Source: ThoughtCo.

Helen Keller became deaf and blind as a result of an illness when she was just 19 months old. Despite losing both her sight and hearing at a very young age, she overcame numerous obstacles to become a prominent figure in American history.  

Keller was the first deaf-blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree, and the first woman to receive an honorary degree from Harvard University.

She dedicated herself to improving the lives of others. She authored numerous books and essays sharing her life experiences and devoted most of her time advocating for social causes such as women’s suffrage and rights for disabled people. In recognition of her extraordinary achievements, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. 

Her legacy continues to inspire generations, serving as a reminder that anything is possible with hard work and dedication.

19. Cece Bell

Cece Bell suffered from sensorineural hearing loss after losing her hearing at 4½ years old due to meningitis.

Best known for her autobiographical graphic novel El Deafo, she began writing the book to help individuals improve their understanding of and communication with people who have hearing loss. Her book won the Newbery Honor Award from the American Library Association and is a New York Times best seller.

Her story is an inspiring example of how one can achieve significant accomplishments by translating their personal experiences into creative works.

20. Megan Rix

Degree of hearing loss: ​​Moderate
Megan Rix

Source: ThoughtCo.

Diagnosed with moderate hearing loss in her 40s, Megan Rix continued to pursue her dream of becoming an author despite her reduced hearing. She went on to write numerous children’s books and was inspired to create a deaf heroine for one of her stories.

Rix learnt to cope with hearing loss by using hearing aids and studying sign language. She overcame her listening challenges to become an award-winning and Sunday Times Best Selling Author.

How Hearing Aids Can Benefit People With Hearing Loss

By using hearing aids, people with hearing loss can experience many benefits that can significantly improve their quality of life. They can feel more connected to the world and better engage in social, cognitive, and physical activities. This, in turn, improves their mental well-being and reduces feelings of isolation.

Improves communication

Hearing aids can help individuals with hearing loss to better understand speech, both in quiet and noisy environments. This can improve their ability to communicate effectively with family, friends, and colleagues.

Increases confidence

Hearing aids can give those experiencing hearing loss a boost in confidence when it comes to social situations. As they feel more confident in their ability to communicate with others, they become more willing to participate in conversations.

Improves relationships

Did you know that hearing aids can improve relationships aside from improving one’s hearing? When people with hearing loss are able to communicate more effectively, they often feel more connected to loved ones and become more involved in social activities. They also tend to feel less isolated.

Additionally, negative emotions experienced among caretakers are reduced. This includes frustration and worry, which stem from communication breakdowns and concerns about their loved one’s well-being.

Reduces the risk of dementia

Studies have shown that individuals with untreated hearing loss are at a higher risk of cognitive decline and dementia. By using hearing aids, these individuals can improve their ability to process and understand speech, which can help to preserve cognitive function.

Know someone with hearing loss?

If you suspect that you or your loved one is experiencing hearing loss, take a hearing test to determine the severity of the condition. You can also speak to an audiologist to learn more about hearing loss and the benefits of hearing aids.

FAQs About Famous Deaf and Hard-of-hearing People

When is Deaf Awareness Month?

Deaf Awareness Month is in September. It was introduced in 1997 to recognise the achievements of deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals and to raise awareness for the challenges they face.

Has a deaf person won an Oscar?

Yes! Troy Kotsur won the Oscar in 2022 for Best Supporting Actor. His role in the film CODA was incredibly well received and earned him various other awards including the Golden Globe, British Academy Film Award, Screen Actors Guild Award and Critics’ Choice Movie Award.

Has there been a deaf Olympian?

Yes, there are deaf athletes who have participated in the Olympics and Paralympics. This includes Diksha Dagar and Becca Meyers.

  • Diksha Dagar: Olympics

Born with profound hearing loss, Diksha Dagar is a golf player who represented India in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. She has also participated in the Deaflympics, where she won 2 medals.

  • Becca Meyers: Paralympics

Becca Meyers is a Paralympic swimmer representing the USA and a multiple world record holder. Due to Usher syndrome, she’s both deaf and blind. Yet, she has gone on to win numerous medals in the Paralympics and World Championships!

Are there any deaf professional footballers?

Yes, there is. Stefan Markolf is a professional football player from Germany who was born deaf.

Suspect you might have hearing loss?

Your ears play an important role in your daily life and should not be neglected.

Speak to our hearing care professionals regarding your concerns today.

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