Academic journal article American Annals of the Deaf

Role Models as Facilitators of Social Capital for Deaf Individuals: A Research Synthesis

Academic journal article American Annals of the Deaf

Role Models as Facilitators of Social Capital for Deaf Individuals: A Research Synthesis

Article excerpt

Especially with a newly diagnosed person with hearing loss, they like having that counselor for the deaf. Because they're seeing similarities there. . . . "Wow, you have a master's degree and you're a rehabilitation counselor for the deaf and you're deaf. Well, hell, that means I can do something! Even with my hearing loss." So [the counselor as a] role model is also very important.

-Statewide vocational rehabilitation coordinator, quoted by Cawthon and the RES Team (2012)

Navigating negative attitudes, historical prejudices, and reduced accessibility at school and at work in comparison to hearing peers, deaf individuals often encounter a fundamental lack of understanding of what it means to be deaf in a hearing world (Lane, 1992).1 For instance, whether at home, in school, or in the community, deaf youth are often in settings where there are limited opportunities for effective communication (Hillburn, Marini, & Slate, 1997; Mitchell & Karchmer, 2011). This language and communication context creates a potential vacuum in the types of immediate personal support for deaf individuals and the availability of opportunities to build social networks and work toward their goals (Solomon, 2012).

Access not only to direct instruction and support but also to incidental learning opportunities is critical to effective functioning at school, in the workplace, and in social settings (Brackenbury, Ryan, & Messenheimer, 2006; Lederberg, Prezbindowski, & Spencer, 2000). The pervasive societal, psychological, and physical barriers experienced by deaf individuals limit incidental learning opportunities, particularly opportunities to build social capital-the relationships, value systems, institutions, and other resources that enable access to people, organizations, and economic attainment (Bourdieu, 1986; Holland, Reynolds, & Weller, 2007). The impact of reduced or absent social capital can be seen in employment rates that are not commensurate with deaf individuals' level of training: Given their level of training, people who are deaf are often underemployed, and continue to earn less than their hearing peers over the course of their careers (Cawthon & RES Team, 2012). Abundant social capital allows one to navigate complex workplace situations when there are not clear external criteria for admission-for example, when an employee wants to be considered for participation in a new project or would like to be involved in building partnerships between different organizations or companies. Without access to the full mix of informal and formal communication opportunities necessary to build social capital, it can be challenging for deaf individuals to gain entry to advancement and higher levels of responsibility

Although building social capital is a lifelong endeavor, sources of social capital for young people from culturally diverse groups, in particular, stem from interactions between the individual and the family and immediate social networks (Holland et al., 2007; Lee & Bowen, 2006). Role models, as one category of relationships within an individual's social network, have the potential to (a) create interpersonal bonds within an established network of peers and (b) facilitate bridging between the individual and resources outside his or her environment (Putnam, 2000). Role models can also serve as "institutional agents" (Stanton-Salazar, 2011) who use their social membership, status, and experience to benefit and empower youth who have unequal access to these types of resources.

Defining Role Models

The literature relating to role models draws from a variety of theoretical frameworks, orientations, and research methodologies (see, e.g., Allen, Eby, Poteet, Lentz, & Lima, 2004; Eby, Allen, Evans, Ng, & Dubois, 2008; Zand et al., 2009). There are many definitions of role models in the research literature, both in terms of role models' personal characteristics and the function of a role model relationship. …

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