Year of Publication

2014

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

College

Communication and Information

Department

Communication

First Advisor

Dr. Donald W. Helme

Abstract

Communication processes can be affected by stigma – a negative evaluation of an individual’s attributes that discredits or identifies the individual as not normal (Goffman, 1963). One such communicative process that is affected by stigma is disclosure. Disclosure is when individuals share personal information that reveals something not previously known (Charmaz, 1991). One such group of individuals who may be forced to choose between disclosing (to get accommodations or social support) and avoiding stigma (by not disclosing) is individuals with disabilities (Braithwaite, 1991; Charmaz, 1991).

This study focuses on one particular population of individuals with disabilities – those with a hearing loss. Through the use of interactive interviewing and Communication Privacy Management (CPM) theory, this study examines hard of hearing and deaf individuals’ perceptions of both the disclosure process and stigma. CPM examines how and why people conceal or reveal private information, such as hearing loss (Petronio, 1991, 2002). Using CPM, this study poses research questions surrounding how hard of hearing individuals disclose and manage turbulence surrounding their hearing loss. Further, participants’ perceptions and responses to stigma surrounding hearing loss are also examined.

Based on the participants’ responses, managing the boundaries surrounding their hearing loss includes considerations of identity, the other person/people in the interaction, risks of not disclosing, timing, and how much to disclose. Further, participants viewed boundary turbulence as positive only when it was helpful; otherwise, they reported a feeling of a loss of control. In examining stigma and other consequences of disclosure, participants talked about being labeled, not being worth others’ time, and being seen as incapable. Finally, participants reported a wide variety of responses to stigma surrounding their hearing loss. In this study, I also discuss the implications of these findings, both theoretical and practical implications, and how they reflect the lives of the deaf and hard of hearing. Finally, I address the directions for future research on this topic as well as the limitations to this study.

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