While almost all scholars of the deaf community acknowledge the role of shared experience in the development of that community, few have made it a focus of study. This paper is about the experiences which lead deaf people to seek interaction with each other, and the difficulties they have encountered with the "hearing world," including family, friends, and fellow employees.
Data were collected through in-depth interviews with twenty-five deaf adults. Interviews followed a life history approach, which included descriptions of family relationships, school and employment experiences, and community participation. Data were analyzed and coded for recurring themes. One theme emerged as dominant and consistent across all categories of life experience: the social rejection by, and alienation from the larger hearing community. Only when informants described interactions with deaf people did the theme of isolation give way to comments about participation and meaningful interaction. Further analysis suggested that informants turned to other deaf people in order to meet specific needs which were not met through interactions with hearing people. These include the need for "real" conversation, the search for information, the opportunity to develop close friendships, and a sense of "family."
It is suggested that through interaction deaf and hearing people create the social meaning of deafness. Historically, the dominant hearing culture has assigned deaf people to outsider social roles, and in response deaf people developed a shared understanding of these roles. Sometimes this understanding led them to challenge these interpretations. It also led them to create alternatives for themselves and other deaf people. The deaf community is one such alternative.