Psychology Ph.D. Dissertations


From Discrimination to Action: Understanding Empowerment in the Deaf Community

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Advisor

Catherine Stein, Ph.D. (Committee Chair)

Second Advisor

Robert Carels, Ph.D. (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Lisa Dimling, Ph.D. (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Dale Klopfer, Ph.D. (Committee Member)


Although deafness is traditionally conceptualized as a medical problem or disability, about 500,000 deaf people in the United States identify as members of an ethnolinguistic minority that takes pride in being Deaf. Previous research suggests that D/deaf people face considerable discrimination and take action to empower their community. In the present empirical study, Deaf and hard of hearing adults (N=175) completed an online questionnaire to share their views of their D/deaf identity and their experiences with discrimination and empowered action. The present study proposed and tested a conceptual model in which identifying with the Deaf community directly contributes to taking action to better the situation of Deaf and hard of hearing individuals, and this direct relationship is mediated by perceiving discrimination against the group and experiencing emotional upset from that discrimination (affective group relative deprivation). Study results suggest Deaf individuals report taking action to empower the Deaf community and that their reports of motivation for empowered action varied by their endorsement of Deaf group identity. For individuals identifying completely with the Deaf community, experiencing discrimination and affective group relative deprivation motivated their action to empower their group, as suggested by the proposed model. However, for individuals who identify as bicultural (identifying with the Deaf and hearing worlds) discrimination and affective group relative deprivation were not mediating factors. Participants' endorsement of experiencing group-level discrimination and affective relative deprivation are presented. Implications of focusing on various types of Deaf identity and implications of community level empowerment strategies for the Deaf community are discussed.