/ Deaf People's Coping Strategies in an Everyday Employment Context

My PhD is inspired by both disability studies and feminist perspectives on labour market structures for several reasons. The existing research on deaf people and their experience of work is often focused on problems, issues, and experiences of lack/deficiency: lack of accessibility, poor communication with colleges and surrounding society, high levels of unemployment or underemployment. The data are often statistics and remain un-theorized; there is little qualitative data.  Although it is important data, especially on a political level, they do not provide much information on how deaf people navigate and strategize career progress and advancement. Furthermore, they do not shed light on creative and useful coping strategies for facing structural discrimination and (audist) micro-aggressions. My research aims to change this.

In the PhD, I will contribute to the transformation of deaf studies research by suggesting how to benefit from other studies on minority workers and employment and combine deaf studies with theoretical concepts from these fields. One example is that both gender and disability research have analysed how minority employees (women or disabled people) use different strategies for coping with work life (Church et al 2007, Taub et al 2004,  Benschop et al 2011, Bird et al 2011) and how this effects culture and dynamics in the work place. Hiding and disclosing strategies are frequently mentioned among disability studies (Kafer 2016 ) Price et al 2017). When the disabled employee has either a visible or invisible disability, he/she might often choose to hide the disability by not meeting customers face to face and instead interacting through phone calls or emails (Church et al. 2007) This points in a different direction than recent studies on deaf people’s employment experience such as Friedner (2013) showing how the neo-liberal labour market also produces disability as value. 

Based on my qualitative study of deaf-led businesses in Denmark I propose, in line with Friedner’s argument around value, that the traditional theorisation of disability/deafness as stigma should be expanded to bring attention to questions of value, agency and coping strategies and explore how deaf people navigate and experience their opportunities and positions in labour market with ambivalences. 

The Major Review Report is based on a scoping study which is conducted by a  focus group with British deaf people who are self-employed or own business (with several employees). Among the 7 participants 4 are female and 3 are male. The 4 females are all self-employed and do not employ other people. 3 of them do not specifically target at deaf markets. 2 of the 3 male participants have experience or still are business owners. The last one is self-employed. All the male participants provide service targeting at deaf people/sign language. 

The interview was conducted in order to explore the broad experience of business ownership and self-employment among deaf people in UK. There are almost no studies of it. Use of focus group helps to collect data from several people once. Moreover it also can provide a setting where the deaf participants can share and tell each others their experience. In this manner, the interactionist perspective on how they talk about deaf self-employment and business ownership, and how they talk about their experience as deaf, men, women and other positions in relation to the employment context.


This conference proceeding was made possible with the financial support of the National Endowment for the Humanities, Digital Humanities Advancement Grants [#HAA-258756-8, 2018]; and Gallaudet University: the Office of the Chief Bilingual Officer, Yeker Anderson Club, and Department of American Sign Language and Deaf Studies.


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  • Atkins, W.S. (2011). Exploring the lived experiences of deaf entrepreneurs and business owners (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from Educational Doctoral Dissertations in Organization Development.
  • Atkins, W.S. (2013). A study into the lived experiences of deaf entrepreneurs: Considerations for the professional. JADARA 46(2).
  • Friedner, M. (2013). Producing “Silent Brewmasters”: Deaf workers and added value in India's coffee cafés. Anthropology of Work Review, 34(1). https://doi.org/10.1111/awr.12005
  • Friedner, M. (2014). Deaf capital: An exploration of the relationship between stigma and value in deaf multilevel marketing participation in urban India. Medical Anthropology Quarterly, 28(4). DOI: 10.1111/maq.12115
  • Kendall (1999):”Unequal to Work: A brief review of literature on Deafness and employment.” Deaf worlds. 15 (2)