Deaf business owners’ experiences of and strategies in navigating an audist normative structured labour market in Denmark
Lindsay, Mette Sommer
MetadataShow full item record
This PhD investigates deaf-led businesses, an emerging phenomenon in Denmark between 2000-2017. The data consists of interviews with nine deaf business owners, supported by observations made on visits to the businesses and interviews with three employees. The businesses fall into two groups: those oriented towards hearing, private customers, and those oriented towards deaf customers for whom the services receive public funding. This study employs Bourdieu’s theoretical framework regarding how people navigate their social contexts based on their habitus and forms of capital. The study demonstrates the ways in which deaf business owners’ life experiences in Denmark are influenced by structures of inequality. Research into disabled people’s work experiences has shown that the labour market rests on ableist values. Ableist values encompass audist values, whereby hearing and speaking are privileged; deaf people are, therefore, disadvantaged by not fitting the template of ‘ideal worker’. Deaf people set up businesses so as to become their own boss and pursue professional interests; this study also reveals that direct or indirect discrimination may motivate them to seek alternatives to traditional employment in the ‘hearing’ labour market. Secondly, the study explains how deaf people strategically navigate their hearing surroundings as business owners. Owners of businesses oriented towards the hearing market use adaptive strategies to ‘pass’ as business owners, undertaking significant invisible labour to expand their ‘hearing’ cultural and social capital. Those with businesses aimed at deaf customers show the opposite approach, using strategic isolationism (e.g. avoiding social contact with hearing people; preferring to employ deaf people) to oppose the audist values of the surrounding labour market. Being seen as deaf creates the expectation of ‘deaf cultural and social capital’, e.g. sign language skills, understanding deaf customers’ needs, and the ability to navigate deaf contexts. Thirdly, the study shows that the emergence of deaf business ownership has created new opportunities for deaf people in the labour market and a professional context where deaf skills can be capitalised on and where deaf people’s social networks, behaviours and values are advantages rather than disadvantages. However, deaf-led businesses provide a limited number of new jobs, and deaf people still face challenges in the broader labour market. This study contributes theoretically to the body of research concerning minority-led businesses, and also to the disciplines of Deaf Studies and Disability Studies in general.