Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Psychology - Faculty of Health & Behavioural Science


This thesis sets out to explore the world of deafness and to identify the major issues that beset deaf people. The experience of deaf people is largely unknown by the hearing world, partly because of the unimaginable nature of the reality of deafness (unlike blindness which, to some extent at least, can be easily simulated, though blindness from birth cannot), partly because deafness is not immediately visible and partly because the communication issues are so complex. The thesis begins with an historical view of deafness to provide a rationale for the way in which deaf people are understood and treated today and then moves on to identify the most serious and far-reaching issues that affect the lives of this population. Health and mental health, language, education, communication and cultural issues are explored in depth and their importance compared. Cultural issues emerge as a special complexity as Deaf* communities have strong difficulties in being recognised as a culture as opposed to a disabled minority. To overcome this, a paradigm shift is needed whereby Deaf people can be viewed as both a separate culture and a normal population within a wellness model. A theoretical framework, Personal Construct Theory, is proposed as a theoretical approach that will validate Deaf experience and also provide an explanation of the hearing world’s interpretation of Deafness. It is proposed that this framework provides both a bridge for more effective communication and useful clinical perspectives, thereby providing the context for the paradigm shift that is needed. Three studies are presented. Study 1 establishes the extent of the problems associated with diagnosis of health and mental health problems; Study 2 presents an initial strategy to combat diagnostic issues by translating a widely used diagnostic mental xiv health test into Auslan (Australian Sign Language) using a CD-ROM format and trialling the test with a pilot group; Study 3 presents an exploration of the ways in which Deaf and hearing people interpret themselves and one another using the Personal Construct Theory framework. The thesis concludes with a discussion of the ways in which this research contributes to the paradigm shift that will change the perception of deafness and the social conditions related to this population. *”D” Deaf is used to refer to the culture of deaf people; “d” deaf is used to refer to the physiological (audiological) condition of deafness. This usage continues throughout the thesis.

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Unless otherwise indicated, the views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Wollongong.