The experience of growing up deaf or hard of hearing: Implications of sign language versus oral rearing on identity development and emotional well-being

Janet G. Moschella (1992)

This research study investigated the experience of growing up deaf or hard of hearing by interviewing deaf and hard of hearing adults. It assumed a cross-cultural perspective between those who identified with a distinct Deaf culture and American Sign Language (ASL) and those who identified with "hearing" and oral traditions. It looked at the differences between the childhood experiences of deaf and hard of hearing adults according to predominant communication through Sign Language versus oral English, rearing by deaf versus hearing parents, and degree of hearing loss. Visual access to language and affiliation with other deaf or hard of hearing persons was critical to the respondents in terms of their search for a secure and positive identity. While these factors were present for those who grew up with Sign, they were more often complicated for those deaf and hard of hearing individuals who were expected to adapt strictly in a hearing culture using a spoken language. As children, these respondents were prone to feelings of shame, isolation, alienation, constraint, and depression. Discovering Sign as adults and connecting with others who have similar backgrounds became a turning point for most of the deaf respondents, which opened up many possibilities for them and enhanced their self-esteem. Three comprehensive analyses emerged from the data addressing: (1) the regard for one's deafness and communication needs within the family, educational and social contexts; (2) phases of Deaf and hard of hearing identity development; and (3) the effects of oral versus signed communication on self-esteem and emotional well-being. Results were highly significant and illuminating of the deaf and hard of hearing experience.