The issue

The “slashed-ear” symbol is widely used (often incorrectly) and so are symbols for “TTY”, “interpretation”, “volume control phone”, and others.

Our position

CAD-ASC rejects the slashed-ear symbol and supports the other symbols.

The Canadian Association of the Deaf – Association des Sourds du Canada formally rejected the use of the slashed-ear universal symbol of access in 1990. We brought our position to the attention of the World Federation of the Deaf, which had approved of the symbol, and persuaded the WFD to withdraw its support of it in 1991.

The slashed-ear symbol was rejected for many reasons:

  • It fails to distinguish between the very different access needs of people who are Deaf and people who are hard of hearing. For example, it is often used to indicate that assistive listening devices are provided, but it misleads Deaf people who are looking for Sign language interpretation. Therefore it fails to function as a true symbol of access for either Deaf or hard of hearing people, let alone both at the same time.
  • It fails to indicate what access is being provided: interpretation? employees who fingerspell? TTYs? flashing alarms?
  • The slash across the ear implies that hearing loss is a defect or a negative, i.e. “can’t hear”. Symbols for other disabilities focus on the positive: people with mobility disabilities “can use wheelchairs”, blind people “can use canes”.
  • The slashed-ear symbol leads to misunderstandings: Deaf children have been known to assume it means “No Deaf people allowed”, while hearing children sometimes assume it means “No listening allowed”.
  • The slashed-ear symbol is ugly. There is no gracefulness about it, as there is in the symbol for wheelchair access, and no simple dignity as there is in the symbol for blind people.

CAD-ASC questions the need for a single symbol to indicate access for both Deaf and hard of hearing people, when the means of providing such access are so various. Wheelchair users need only physical space for their wheelchairs, thus one symbol suffices for them. Blind people need only verbal or tactile translation of visual information, thus one symbol suffices for them. Deaf and hard of hearing people, however, have a broad range of needs and devices which cannot all be represented by a single symbol.

We have suggested a Deaf-specific universal symbol: a pair of hands making the sign for “Sign”. This symbol is consistent with our approval of symbols that indicate specific access services in a positive way.



The Canadian Association of the Deaf-Association des Sourds du Canada
606 – 251 Bank Street
Ottawa, Ontario K2P 1X3
(613) 565-2882