"Deaf and dumb" : stigma, stereotyping and management of the adult hearing impaired at work
This study investigates the perceptions different groups of hearing impaired adults have of the difficulties experienced in the acquisition and retention of satisfactory employment. A societal reactions perspective is adopted: departures from 'standard' communicative competence which violate expected norms of interaction are heavily sanctioned in our society. Those who 'deviate' in this respect tend to be negatively categorised in a fairly uniform manner. Thus the mildly impaired suffer similar imputations of deviance as those more severely impaired, variations being of degree rather than of kind, Despite this common categorisation, however, the hearing impaired adopt differing strategies to deal with stigma according to their skill in achieving 'standard' communicative 'competencies'. The semi-closed field of employment was chosen as illustrative of my arguments, as the hearing impaired must contend daily with a hearing environment. Participant observation activities were combined with in-depth interviewing of fifty respondents, covering a diverse range of clinical loss, age of onset and communication skills. My major speculation was confirmed. Respondents, as a group, felt under-involved, if not totally segregated from participation in economic goals by the stereotyping and stigma reactions their handicap was perceived to elicit from work colleagues and employers. Outcomes, however differed according to skill in communicative performance, although the work setting constrained options overall for successful strategy management. Other findings include the power of informal labellers to instigate deviant outcomes; the situational and sequential nature of deviance defining; the legitimation of limitations extrinsic to a respondent's handicap as intrinsic, and their rationalisation as 'insuperable obstacles'; and adherence by respondents to the work ethic. An appreciation of the commonalities of the deviantising process as applied to different groups of the hearing impaired is a pre-requisite for suggested anti-discriminatory legislation: to proscribe overt stigmatising behaviour, and ultimately eradicate stigma's 'small beginnings' at the level of individual interaction.