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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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Community Communication. As can be expected at this point in their development, the adolescents are becoming increasingly autonomous in their interactions with their communities. As the teens venture out more on their own, or in groups of peers, they confront communication barriers. They anticipate having to deal with a lack of communication access in employment, medical care, and so forth. Alex gave examples of what he perceived as unfair treatment in restaurants when he placed an order. Pat, who desires a career in law enforcement, fire and rescue, or the armed services, projected prohibitions in these fields for deaf people. He also discussed his boredom during church services when interpreters are not available. Danny mentioned he expected to have communication difficulties in future employment. Angie experiences barriers in movie theaters and anticipates the need for interpreters in medical care, appointments pertaining to parental responsibilities, finances, and so forth. Mary shared a story about the lack of interpreting services for a theatrical event. Examples of their comments follow:
ALEX: There was one woman who knew I was deaf. Sheíd seen me . . . [She] just walked away and left me. I had gone there by myself four or five times. She just ignored me, and her job is to listen to what people want, and I have my rights, but she just walked away.

PAT: I want to be a policeman, but I canít. Iím deaf. Some jobs you can use sign, but I donít know. I canít be a fireman or work for an ambulance because Iím deaf.

ANGIE: Some of my friends talk. I donít talk well. I have friends who can interpret for me when somebody talks. For example, if we go to a movie theater without captioning, they explain to me whatís going on. Sometimes I feel bad depending on hearing or hard of hearing friends.


In Inner Lives of Deaf Children, I defined pathways as the avenues that the participants took to ďnegotiate their relationships with disparate others, for interacting with friends and family, and for meeting their daily informational needsĒ (p. 219). In the phase II study, the teens still have multiple pathways for coping with situations that are inaccessible, difficult, or boring due to communication barriers. Many of the same pathways reported in the phase I study are still used by the teens. These adolescents are still quite autonomous and take the initiative in finding ways to cope with adversity. However, now they make more thoughtful decisions, rely more on technology, and report more active or anticipated assistance from their fathers, including interpreting, than they did in childhood. The increased presence of fathers is one of the most significant differences from the phase I study.

The phase II study found that the adolescents participate in more clubs and extracurricular school activities such as school sports, a deaf teen club, and the Pep Club. They are determined to force themselves to deal with difficult situations. Joe has several strategies for dealing with bullying by hearing peersóbecoming a peer counselor and being a role modelóand Angie makes concerted efforts to access information and learn all she can to prepare for her future. The participants also show more goal-directed coping strategies; for example, Alex plans to expand his social network when confronted with bullying at his school.

The adolescents make more intentional use of sign language interpreting than they did as children. They also have expanded their efforts to communicate with classmates and hearing friends. While in phase I they told stories about teaching others to sign, now they report teaching others about Deaf culture, the realities of being deaf, and how to succeed in their interpersonal relationships. They are more able to recognize and assert their needs and make recommendations for problem solving.

Mary, Danny, Pat, and Joe all gave examples of what they do when communication among hearing people at home, at school, or in social situations is not accessible to them.

MARY: I really donít go out often with hearing friends. Only with deaf family and friends. I socialize like that.

DANNY: Most of the time the hearing people would talk and I would play my Game Boy. I would be by myself.

MARY: If they werenít enthusiastic, Iíd get a book and read.

PAT: I ask them to sign and tell them I donít understand.

JOE: I would try to work my way into the conversation . . . continue to get good grades, become active in sports . . . peer mediation . . .

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