But what happens when a part of your identity is associated with your ability to hear or not. How does one establish a healthy identity of themselves when most the views of hard-of-hearing or deafness is negative? One study conducted in South Africa concluded that the deaf identity is not a static concept; but that it is a complex ongoing quest for belonging, bound up with the acceptance of being deaf and “finding one’s voice” in a hearing dominate society (McIlroy & Storbeck, 2011).
This concept correlates more with James Marcia’s Theory of Identity Achievement over Erik Erikson’s fifth stage of psychosocial development based on the fact that sometimes the Deaf identity does not develop until post-adolescence, even in children who were born deaf. Marcia’s theory acknowledges that sometimes the quest for one’s identity can p one’s lifetime, therefore also breaking Erikson’s rigid rules of the identity developing in adolescence.
When the Deaf identity has been developed it too has a range of meaning for those involved in the process. In the South Africa study, it was founded that there are four static identities; deaf, Deaf, negative/ambiguous, and bicultural Deaf. These identities are formed through a myriad of experiences. Whether the child was born to a hearing family, born to a Deaf family, went to school in a mainstream hearing school, or attended a Deaf school, and the person’s personal preferred method of communication.
Many Deaf children of Deaf families are born into a household of signing and of knowledge of the Deaf culture; this person most likely will assume the Deaf Identity. This person will experience the least amount of crisis when it comes to identity. But being a Deaf child of a Deaf adult is such a low occurrence that coming to this identity is not that easy. There are three general factors, for deaf children, which directly link to their identity; the attitudes of the parents, the mode of communication which aides in the social interaction with family and later ith peers, and the child’s linguistic competence (Kossewska, 2008). The first few years of a child’s life are the most critical for development and begin to reinforce the general factors that impact their identity. A deaf child born to hearing parents may struggle with language and literacy development most of their life. If their parents choose to enroll their child in a mainstream school and stress oralism, then the child will have a more negative view of their deafness due to the struggles they go through to obtain spoken language.
This may lead to a ‘negative/ambiguous’ or ‘deaf’ identity because the person does not truly identify with their deafness as a part of who they are. Another deaf child born to hearing parents could end up in a deaf school, where the child will learn a signed language and maybe the family will take classes as well. With a child who is not struggling to obtain language and letting their life happen as it happens, is more likely to accept their deafness as a part of who they are and develop a ‘bicultural Deaf’ or a ‘Deaf’ identity, depending on how influential the hearing family is.
And a child born into a Deaf family with proud Deaf identities will likely go to a Deaf school and develop the same Deaf identity as their family. A study done in Poland with 67 deaf adolescents and 93 hearing children were asked “Who Am I? ” to investigate the factors influencing the deaf identity in adolescence. While “it was found that deaf adolescents used more descriptions especially in the following categories: Civil Status, Body and Physical Appearance, Taste and Activities, Friendship and Relationships, Personal and Social Situations, Negative Personal Traits, and Neutral Personality Traits.
Deaf adolescents use as many abstract concepts to describe themselves as the hearing do, but they use more negative personal traits” (Kossewska, 2008). Why is it that the Deaf children are harder on themselves than the hearing? Is this a blatant clue that society as a whole looks down on this group of people and even the children can feel it? Children have been known to feel anger and resentment towards their hearing parents for forcing oralism upon them when there was a world of people just like them out there.
A strong sense of heritage and feeling of belonging can develop when children are a part of a community they can identify with. Sadly this doesn’t always happen in the earlier stages of life. This is also where one may go through an identity crisis and shift from ‘deaf’ to ‘Deaf’ or ‘bicultural. ’ “In discussing how bicultural identities may be understood, Ladd defines Deafhood as a process of claiming one’s Deaf identity with dignity” (McIlroy & Storbeck, 2011). In the South Africa study, all of the participants were 23 years of age and older; the oldest being 55 years old.
In the study, all those who were born to hearing families, attended mainstream schools, but learned SASL (South African Sign Language) identified themselves deaf, but not until later in life. Those who never learned SASL, or any other signed language, never identified themselves with their deafness and had a negative/ ambiguous identity. Lastly, those born Deaf to Deaf families identified as Deaf. Not one participant in this study identified them self as Bicultural, but that is not to say it doesn’t exist. The establishment of the Deaf Identity is a tricky and sometimes rocky path for the majority of children who identify as deaf.
They have so many hurdles to overcome in their journey to establishing their own identity that is one with who they are. From family life, to socialization, to academics, to identifying with their hearing loss or not, these people work hard and might experience more identity crises than average hearing person. But once they have established that identity there is no doubt that it has something to do with their hearing status. It would be a better world to spread the word about the Deaf Community to help the future to identify with their Deafness.