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Deaf life narratives in times of transition.

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - DEALS (Deaf life narratives in times of transition.)

Reporting period: 2015-11-01 to 2017-10-31

Being able to tell your life story is essential for understanding your humanity and identity, and coping with life transitions. This fundamental aspect of being human is often not evident and accessible for deaf adults and young deaf people using a signed language. The study ‘Deaf life narratives in times of transition’ works with British Sign Language (BSL) users and deaf migrants, who may use another sign language as well. It investigates the potential of a culturally familiar practice, signed storytelling, as a means of promoting agency, resilience and well-being. Using narrative therapy, narrative analysis and grounded theory, the project explored the significance of life story work to enhance well-being from a cross-cultural perspective, engaging with deaf migrants from diverse nation states. This resulted in a life story instrument that exploits the visual learning strengths of deaf people and the properties of visual (non-textual) languages through digital media. The study extends current research on narrative methods as a form of cultural brokering and emancipatory methodologies within critical deaf epistemologies, whilst providing culturally appropriate means for promoting deaf well-being. This is one of the few empirical explorations of the universal-specific tension in deaf identity constructions in relation to well-being. As such, the research highlighted the potential of deaf life story work (DLSW) to support individuals’ understanding of conflicts that may arise when participating in multiple communities and integrating multiple selves. This biographic-narrative study facilitated insight into the life transitions that deaf people undergo and is the first study to explore how DLSW might facilitate some of these transitions.
The researcher integrated her previous postdoctoral research on identity with the life story work literature through completing the book Deaf epistemologies, identity, and learning (Gallaudet University Press, 2016) and producing chapters for two edited volumes, Innovative Therapeutic Life Story Work (Jessica Kingsley, 2017), this book is published and the chapter is deposited in the University's institutional repository and available via open access. The second chapter is in press and due to be published in 2018, in the book Deaf Identities: Exploring New Frontiers (Oxford University Press, 2018). Further publications are planned. The publications all acknowledge the funding received from the Marie Sklodowska Curie Individual Fellowship and are either available or will be made available via open access.

Since DLSW is new, and it was the first time the host group worked with deaf migrants and refugees, the Experienced Researcher (ER) first introduced the study to social work, mental health services, and migrant/refugee organisations; this supported the application for ethical approval in March 2016. The project received approval from the Manchester Research Ethics Committee in June 2016, after which signed translations were made of the call for participants, information sheets and consent forms.

Data collection started in October 2016, with a sample of eight deaf participants aged 20 to 50, seven of whom arrived in the UK at various ages across a span of 40 years. Four to eight sessions were offered, lasting three hours each, enabling the ER to optimise her approach according to participants’ language competences, providing them with the opportunity to develop a coherent life story and find meaning in it.

The ER undertook professional training at the University of East London, organised by the Institute of Arts in Therapy and Education, earning a Diploma in Therapeutic Life Story Work. An ESRC IAA (Impact Acceleration Account) grant, entitled ‘The right of each deaf young person and adult to tell his/her life story: a new intervention to enrich deaf wellbeing’, enabled the ER to collaborate with IATE to co-write a DLSW manual that operationalises the findings and guides service providers’ interventions with deaf young people and adults. It will also support future training and research.
The data resulted in the development of a multimodal instrument that supports deaf adults to generate coherent narratives and autoethnographies. Its digital component has 2 elements: a DLSW app for tablet and smartphone, which is accessible for sign language users, and a personalisable template for digital life books. The app development, which was made possible by the abovementioned ESRC grant, refined the proof of concept from the fellowship research. This pioneering work invited substantial reflection from the researcher and deaf production team, alongside consultancy with multilingual and multicultural deaf service users. As a cost-efficient instrument in interventions, and a freely-accessible tool via the app store, this app has the potential to enrich the lives of deaf people worldwide.
The findings were presented at an internal research seminar at the Division of Nursing, Midwifery and Social Work on 19th September 2017, in a presentation entitled Enhancing deaf wellbeing through life story telling: an evidence-based method. In addition to the fellowship’s objective, dissemination and engagement were bolstered by an ESRC IAA grant. This enabled the ER to organise a national workshop on DLSW, which took place at the University of Manchester (UoM) on 20th September 2017.
The ESRC IAA grant enhanced and maximised the impact of the fellowship through disseminating the findings and engaging a broad range of audiences including deaf citizens, health and social care professionals, and third-sector stakeholder organisations. It did this through a sensitisation video and a workshop at the UoM to invite discussion on the app development and seek new knowledge from stakeholders’ perspectives to further the relevance, impact and utility of the DLSW approach. The workshop was attended by 18 deaf service users, mental health and social work service providers (including deaf professionals), medical staff from mental health hospitals, and therapeutic LSW trainers and practitioners. It led to the first-ever DLSW stakeholder network.
The multilingual video is based on the data and makes the findings immediately accessible to its target beneficiaries, as it is presented in BSL with English subtitles. It forms a reference film for potential users of DLSW and a summary of the researcher’s work during the fellowship. To serve multiple groups with very different language skills, maximise dissemination channels and impact, and pave the way for sustainable training initiatives, three versions (5-minute, 30-minute, and 50-minute) were created. The videos support the impact of the app by demonstrating its use.