Academic journal article American Annals of the Deaf

Self-Assessments and Other Perceptions of Successful Adults Who Are Deaf: An Initial Investigation

Academic journal article American Annals of the Deaf

Self-Assessments and Other Perceptions of Successful Adults Who Are Deaf: An Initial Investigation

Article excerpt

MORE OFTEN THAN NOT, deafness is portrayed, not only in the literature in education and rehabilitation but in society in general, in a pathological way that focuses on deficiency, dysfunction, and deviance. Consequently, there has been a paucity of research on successful individuals who are deaf. The purpose of the present study was to help counter this tendency by gathering information from successful deaf adults. Fourteen deaf adults, who were nominated by their peers as being successful, participated in videotaped interviews. The interviews were transcribed, coded, and clustered according to common themes. Participants reflected on their success and made recommendations for children and youth who are deaf, parents, teachers, and employers. A summary of the results, limitations of the study, and recommendations for practice are provided.

Throughout history, deafness has been viewed from a variety of perspectives. There were times when individuals who were deaf were denied the right to an education, not permitted to marry, deprived of their inheritance, restricted from attending religious services, and even sterilized (Lane, 2002; Moores, 2001). Individuals who are deaf may not be treated so terribly or perceived as negatively as they were in the past, yet there is still disagreement about what it means to be deaf. For example, there are some professionals who maintain that individuals who are deaf have severe educational as well as social problems and as a result need medical intervention (Balkany, Hodges, & Goodman, 1996). There are others who contend that deafness should not be viewed as a deficiency, but rather that it constitutes a difference that places no limits on social, emotional, intellectual, or academic development (Lane, Hoffmeister, & Bahan, 1996). Such polar-opposite viewpoints can be further broken down into what Freebody and Powers (2001) have called the "three inflections of deafness." That is, deafness may be viewed as (a) a disability, impairment, disorder, or ailment; (b) a logistical problem, especially in contacts with the hearing community; or (c) the basis of a social community or culture in its own right.

For the purposes of education, social services, and vocational training funding, the U.S. government contends that deafness is a disability. Yet, the American With Disabilities Act (ADA) is an attempt to broaden Americans' understanding of what it means to have a disability. ADA asks that members of society view a disability as a unique characteristic that docs not devalue the individual who possesses it. Rather, a disability should be regarded as a natural way in which one person differs from another. And as such, an individual's disability is a part of his or her identity and self-concept (West, 1991). This perspective was reiterated by the federal government in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Amendments of 1997 (popularly known as IDEA '9T): "Disability is a natural part of the human experience and in no way diminishes the right of individuals to participate in or contribute to society" (Sect. 687).

A related shift in perspective has occurred in the fields of education and psychology, which have demonstrated a growing interest in focusing on individual strengths rather than on deficits and problems (e.g., Dunst, Trivette, & Deal, 1994; Epstein, Rudolph, & Epstein, 2000; Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000). A strength-based perspective offers a medium for empowering individuals and their families by identifying and building on strengths and resources that are frequently overlooked or given minimal attention in traditional deficit-oriented, problem-driven approaches. The primary benefit of a strength-based perspective is that it allows society to emphasize, celebrate, and nurture individuals' and families' strengths, capacities, knowledge, and skills instead of dwelling on problems and failures. The difference between the strength-based and deficit-oriented perspectives was aptly summarized by Kral (1989):

If we ask people to look for deficits, they will usually find them, and their view of the situation will be colored by this. …

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