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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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Deaf Adolescents: Inner Lives and Lifeworld Development

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STANCE. Some of the teens mentioned posture as an overt indicator of whether or not the observed person was deaf.
MARY: Looks like he’s wondering about something . . . I think he’s deaf . . . Maybe by the way he’s sitting, sprawled back, looking to the side. Looks like the way his arms are spread out, he could sign.

DANNY [imitating the stance of the man in the picture with his hands resting on the arms of a chair and his mouth moving]: You wouldn’t lift your hands to sign then put them back like that over and over.

PAT: He’s deaf. I don’t know for sure. The way he is sitting.

EXPRESSION AND EMOTIONAL AFFECT. While examining and interpreting imagined situational contexts in the photographs, the teens also implied that facial expression and apparent emotional affect were indicators of whether or not characters were deaf.
MARY: He’s deaf because it looks like he’s wondering about something.

LISA: I’d probably say he’s deaf. His face look like, he has no idea what they’re talking about.

ANGIE: I feel he’s deaf, because he’s mulling things over, about the future.

PAT: The one who is deaf is just sitting there bored, and the one who is hearing, maybe he was talking on the phone to his girlfriend, but the deaf one is just sitting there bored and waiting because one is hearing. So, you can see they’re playing a game.

DANNY: It looks like he’s talking to his grandparents far away. Maybe in another state. Something happy about his parents or his uncle or family or friends. He’s happy. But the deaf kid is not happy because he has to use . . . He wishes he could hear his grandma and grandpa’s voice [shrugs]. He looks like he’s not happy . . . He’s jealous. He’s lucky. I have to get up and walk over and type, but hearing can talk on the phone anywhere . . . I feel that’s his opinion. That he’s lucky to be able to use the phone. He’s frowning, maybe.

In determining whether the characters in the photographs were deaf or hearing, the participants revealed much about their perspectives of deaf people as well as their perspectives of hearing people. However, none of the adolescents differentiated among deaf, Deaf, and hard of hearing identities, nor did they indicate whether a photographed character might be an oral deaf person.

ACADEMIC SUBJECT MATTER. In discussing the photographs, the adolescents had differing opinions on how academic interests or strengths could be an indication of deaf or hearing identities. Danny, for example, said that he didn’t believe science was a popular subject among deaf people, while Alex (who likes science) and Mary commented that English was a difficult subject for deaf people.

Images of Communication

Several findings emerged from both studies related to communication in the lives of these participants. This was a very articulate group of interviewees, and, overall, the amount and quality of information shared during both the childhood and adolescent interviews was strong. However, as can be expected developmentally, the adolescents demonstrated greatly increased depth and more direct expression of insight and feeling in their stories compared to their childhood interviews. They also provided a greater quantity of information, which was encouraged through a combination of direct and projective questioning. Creative use of photo albums and yearbooks by one participant, who attended an oral school, allowed for enhanced depth and quantity of information.

New technologies are continually emerging that are making communication more available than ever. Mary spoke of the anonymity and accessibility that instant messaging affords. The following categories of images of communication are discussed below: accessible versus like communication, family communication, gender issues, and community communication.

Accessible versus Like Communication. As discussed in the earlier section on attachment, the childhood study revealed that how a person communicates is more important than status as deaf or hearing. The adolescent study, however, revealed that there were transitions in issues of importance related to communication, comfort, attachment, and satisfaction. The adolescent study showed that like communication with “deaf like me” peers had become more important than the accessible communication the children spoke of in the phase I study. In other words, it became more important during adolescence that other teens communicate “like me,” with a matching linguistic mode. This sameness in communication contributed to another important theme in adolescent communication, ease and depth. This ease and depth in communication with self-same individuals (domesticated others) facilitated attachment in these relationships.

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