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The Stigma of Deaf: Managing a Stigmatized Identity and Well-being

Renca Dunn, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


The Deaf identity encompasses cultural, linguistic, and social dimensions that significantly influence the lives of Deaf individuals. The World Health Organization predicts that by 2050, nearly 2.5 billion people worldwide will be living with some degree of hearing loss (2021). While there may be a growing number of people who have some type of hearing loss, there is a distinct group who identify their hearing loss as part of a culture and community. The Deaf community has a rich history, culture, language, and linguistic heritage. The development of the Deaf identity is influenced by factors such as family, education, and choice of communication. Deafness is usually characterized as a stigmatized identity, and this dissertation focuses on the experiences of those who see themselves as part of the Deaf community. This study seeks to understand the ways in which Deaf individuals experience and manage stigma, the role of their identity in their psychological well-being, and how these factors impact their sense of belonging in this world. In Chapter One, I provide a rationale for the study, which includes an explanation of why deafness is considered a culture, the relationship between the Deaf identity and stigma, and the experiences of stigma. In Chapter Two, I discuss the methods of the study, focusing on recruitment, data collection, analysis, and methods of examining Deaf individuals’ perceptions of their Deaf identity. In Chapter Three, I investigate and analyze the findings from research questions 1 to 3 concerning Deaf individuals’ experiences with their Deaf identity and the relationship between stigma and their well-being. For research question one, which focused on the definition and experiences of the Deaf identity, four themes emerged. Research question two, about the stigma experiences of being Deaf, resulted in four themes. Research question three explored the perceived stigma and psychological well-being of Deaf individuals, from which two themes emerged. In Chapter Four, I apply the theory of Communicatively Managing Stigma to explore how Deaf individuals manage their stigma and share the findings. In the fifth and final chapter, I report the key takeaways from the findings, theoretical implications for the SMC theory, and practical implications for both the Deaf and non-Deaf communities. I also discuss the limitations of this study and directions for future research opportunities.

Subject Area

Communication|Disability studies|Linguistics|Social psychology

Recommended Citation

Dunn, Renca, "The Stigma of Deaf: Managing a Stigmatized Identity and Well-being" (2024). ETD collection for University of Nebraska-Lincoln. AAI31293829.