Researchers at the universities of Manchester and Edinburgh are uncovering what enables deaf young people to overcome obstacles as they transition from childhood to adulthood, and what promotes their wellbeing during a period of growth that can be bewildering for many.
As well as leading academics, the ‘Recording Emerging Adulthood in Deaf Youth’ (READY) team consists of deaf co-inquirers in their 20s hired and trained by the universities to lead the interviews, since 16 and 17-year-olds are reportedly likely to prefer speaking with someone closer to their age.
The READY Study is being led by the Social Research with Deaf People group (SORD) at the University of Manchester in collaboration with the Scottish Sensory Centre at the University of Edinburgh. The research is funded by the National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS).
The co-inquirers are expected to start their work this Spring, after the Covid-19 pandemic delayed their work.
One of the co-inquirers, Eve Lister, 28, is keen to start the interviews and be part of a project that makes a real impact on the work of service providers like Teachers of the Deaf, social workers, education institutions and workplaces.
“I’m very excited to begin this journey and I hope it will offer some opportunities for young adults who are part of the study. I’m just glad I’ve got the mentors to work with and helping me to grow as a person,” Lister said.
While the researchers published a short summary report based on results from 92 people last year, they need more deaf young people to take part to further understand their education, work and training prospects, wellbeing, health, self-determination and social networks, friendships and relationships.
The research design takes into account the complexity of deaf young people’s language use, said Alys Young, Professor of Social Work Education & Research at the University of Manchester and the Principal Investigator for the READY Study. “The co-inquirers were included in order to represent diversity of young people in terms of background, preferred communication, identity. Some are British Sign Language (BSL) users, some are spoken language users, like Eve.”
“And that’s another unique feature of the study: we are capacity building but also benefiting from the world-view, lifestyle and experience of young deaf people who will be interviewing younger deaf young people.”
Alongside offering opportunities for co-inquirers like Lister, who hopes to work in deaf education following experience with the research, the project builds up “a modern evidence base about deaf young people today rather than an evidence base that rather belonged to an earlier generation,” Prof Young said.
“And certainly I’m really heartened when people get in touch saying ‘actually the way you’re showing us the young people, those are like the young people I work with’. So there is an identification that we are not representing incorrectly the people in our study because they are recognisable by parents and professionals,” she added.
Lister, who is profoundly deaf from birth and speaks orally and relies on lip-reading, started learning British Sign Language (BSL) when she was 19 and is now a Level 1 user. She was one of the few deaf children in her school and the only one in her family.
She regrets not getting involved in the Deaf community from an early age, as the support at this stage in her life would be beneficial.
“Transitioning from youth to work place was quite hard because I was left to my own devices to get the support that I needed. I no longer had that constant support network so I had to be very independent very quickly.
“And at times I felt some sense of loss because now I had to quickly organise, be very proactive, speak with the right people to ensure that the support was there at the right place,” Lister said.
She sees the study as an opportunity for deaf young people to tell decision-makers and society what support they need.
“They have a place in the world and a right to be heard,” she says.
“I’m hoping the results of this study will help people in the future to understand young deaf adults more, try to really find out what young deaf people really want, understand the challenges they face, and just be kinder to them and more inclusive,” she added. “And to ensure that they do have a place in the world through education, through the workplace and through social situations.”
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The concept of translanguaging – the use of different languages together – and what that means for deaf young people is starting to emerge from the study, something that there is very little evidence of outside the classroom, Prof Young said.
“That picture that is emerging of language mixing and communication flexibility that is something we are really interested in following and seeing if that changes as young people develop new friends, friendships, new social networks, or perhaps move into new education and work environments: what happens to that language picture for them?”
During the first Covid-19 lockdown, the team temporarily stopped active recruitment of participants. They were concerned about the degree of isolation deaf young people were experiencing, with fewer conversational partners and chances to socialise outside the online realm.
“Some of the questions we were asking were quite difficult questions, about loneliness, about connectedness,” Prof Young said.
Now that the recruitment has been extended until the end of June, the academics and co-inquirers carrying out the study have the rare opportunity of comparing results before and after Covid.
“Remember that everything is possible,” Lister says. “I cannot tell you how many times I have wanted to quit at certain critical moments in my life. You really get to moments when everything is overwhelming or too difficult and you just feel you are not well supported.
“Just remember that situation won’t last forever. Find ways to overcome those challenges, talk to people who try to be hands on and make those changes that work best for you,” were her words of encouragement to deaf young people – something which resonates with all communities during this time.
The recruitment for the five year-long study is open to deaf young people between 16-19. Those who turn 16 before the end of June 2021 can join and up to anyone who is still 19 at the time of signing up.
More information for young people and parents about the READY Study and how to sign up can be found on the study website here.
Help and support organisations can be accessed here.
READY study Twitter account for updates here.
Feature image: Shutterstock/Inspiring.
This article was amended on 22 March 2021 to say “Lister, who is profoundly deaf from birth and speaks orally and relies on lip-reading, started learning British Sign Language (BSL) when she was 19 and is now a Level 1 user“, rather than “Lister, who is profoundly deaf from birth, started learning British Sign Language (BSL) when she was 19 and is now a Level 1 user” as the article stated originally.