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Re-defining ‘norms’: D/deaf young people's transitions to independence



Traditionally, young people's transitions from a state of dependent childhood to an independent adult identity have been measured in terms of a developmental stage model. However, it is increasingly being recognised that young people are not a universal category and that their transitions need to be understood within the diverse context of peers, family, and communities. This paper draws on a rich body of work from the interdisciplinary field of Deaf studies and original research with D/deaf young people – a group generally overlooked by sociological research – to challenge and to advance conventional interdisciplinary debates about youth transitions in two ways. In the first half of the paper we examine D/deaf young people's conventional school-to-work, housing and domestic transitions and in doing so reflect upon the ways that their experiences shed a new light on understandings of these traditional markers of independent adulthood. In the second half of the paper we challenge conventional definitions of what marks an important transition by focusing on the transition that many D/deaf young people themselves define as the most significant in their lives, learning BSL and the transition to an independent D/deaf identity that this enables them to make. In doing so the paper mainstreams within sociology an important body of research about D/deaf people's experiences from Deaf studies.