Academic journal article American Annals of the Deaf

Deaf and Hearing Individuals' Beliefs about the Capabilities of Deaf People

Academic journal article American Annals of the Deaf

Deaf and Hearing Individuals' Beliefs about the Capabilities of Deaf People

Article excerpt

The study explored the beliefs of 100 residents of Greece about the capabilities of deaf people living in that country. Participants included deaf adults who communicated in Greek Sign Language (GSL), deaf adults who communicated orally, hearing adults who attended GSL courses, and hearing adults who did not attend such courses. Beliefs were explored through the ODP (Opinions About Deaf People) scale (Berkay, Gardner, & Smith, 1995) and an open-ended interview. All participant groups viewed deaf people's capabilities positively, but Deaf users of GSL expressed the most positive beliefs. The findings suggest that less positive beliefs reflect diverse ideological views toward GSL and Deaf culture or an awareness of the obstacles preventing deaf people from developing their potential. The Deaf community's role in empowering deaf people and the role of GSL courses in promoting awareness regarding deaf people are also discussed.

Considerable research on attitudes toward deaf people lias indicated that heaiing people tend to hold negative attitudes and think stereotypically regarding deaf people (Abbou, 1994; Berkay, Gardner, & Smith, 1995; Lampmpoulou & Padeliadu, 1997; Parasnis, DeCaro, & Raman, 1996; Parasnis, Samar, & Mandke, 1996; Sacks, 1989). Although hearing people do not hold hostile attitudes toward deaf people, they often attribute stereotypical characteristics to deaf people (Cambra, 1996; Lane, 1988), which can convey negative connotations (e.g., "deaf people are lazy") or seemingly "positive" connotation (e.g., "deaf people are very quiet") that nonetheless have misleading and unhelpful meanings (Lott, Easterbrooks, Heller, & O'Rourke, 2001).

Negative attitudes and stereotypical thoughts negatively affect deaf people in various domains. They have pernicious effects on deaf people's feelings of self-worth (Strong & Shaver, 1991) and cause permanent harm to their personalities (Stuart, Harrison & Simpson, 1991), considering that deaf people may internalize society's negative attitudes (Hurwitx, Weisel, Parasnis, DeCaro, & Savir, 1997-1998).

Their covert nature makes stereotypes even more problematic, since stereotyping is a type of discrimination that it is not immediately and directly perceived (Jacobs, 1994). Nevertheless, deaf people are well aware of the existence of stereotypes though they sometimes exaggerate their extent, believing that hearing individuals have even more negative attitudes toward deaf people than they really do (Nowell & Marschark, 1994). Gradually, a chain of stereotypical behavior is adopted, in which hearing people hold negative attitudes toward deaf people and attribute stereotypical characteristics to them, and deaf adults who perceive and sometimes misunderstand hearing people's attitudes react also in a stereotypical way (Lott et al., 2001).

Although it is not easy to understand what contributes to negative or otherwise unsatisfactory attitudes toward deafness, relevant factors include misinformation or ignorance on the part of many hearing individuals in regard to deaf people and Deaf culture, insufficient opportunities to learn about deafness, communication barriers and gaps, cultural differences, and limited opportunities for meaningful interaction (Coryell, Holcomb, & Scherer, 1992; Emerton & Rothman, 1978; Lott et al., 2001).

In particular, barriers to communication provide the basis for the development of negative attitudes and stereotyping. Deaf people experience multiple occasions in which communication within their own family, their educational environment, or their workplace is limited because interaction is based only on speaking and listening and rarely on sign language. Limited communication creates frustration, does not enable deaf or hearing people to acquire knowledge about each other's norms and the values, and supports the formation of inaccurate perceptions (Foster, 1998).

Another factor that contributes to the development of negative attitudes and stereotyping is the tendency of hearing people to regard deafness as a pathology (Lott et al. …

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