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Deaf People and Social Media

The next ANZCA 2009 presentation is a group affair which starts off with Nicole Matthews. This paper focusses on the use of Facebook by Deaf young people (some of whom jokingly use the term 'Facehook' for the site). There are possibilities as well as threats in young Deaf people using such rich social media sites - often, such users have been early adopters of such sites, but there also remain barriers to their use, not least because of the significance of sign language for such communities (especially for politically oriented Deaf communities).

Deaf people are a linguistic minority, for whom their use of sign language is a key marker - and their use of online resources to some extent undermines their minority identity - there is concern about the future of AUSLAN and other sign languages as languages, because of the growth of written language especially in online media. There is little research about community building by Deaf people.

Sherman Young now explains that what this project is interested in is engaging with new media, and it ran a digital media course for young (aged 10-18) Deaf people. A group of 14 Deaf people participated in this workshop, and focussed on introductory hands-on digital media production. The course was run in AUSLAN (interpreted from English where necessary), and also provided young Deaf people with a glimpse of university life. Participants were mostly male, and they created a range of short videos during the process.

David Parker now takes over, and notes that participatory media is an important aspect of identity for Deaf people. The focus of this project was especially on profoundly Deaf people who had no spoken communication but used AUSLAN. The workshop used software to create and edit still and moving images to create digital stories.

The style of movie created was very gender-specific, and some of the younger males made very violent and aggressive films; the older participants made films based more on social themes, about issues related to life as a Deaf person in a non-Deaf world. There was very little use of sign language in these movies, interestingly - there was some use of subtitling instead, and participants directed their movies more at non-Deaf audiences than at Deaf people themselves. This was surprising. One explanation is that a combination of sign language, captioning, and visual action on the screen was too confusing.

Facebook is an interesting tool for Deaf people to interact with one another as well as with non-Deaf users. Another key tool for Deaf people is YouTube, and many videos using American sign language exist on the site - far more than for AUSLAN. This is again surprising, as content creation abilities certainly exist; perhaps there are no older rolemodels for younger users in Australia to follow.

There are also interesting challenges for Deaf users in using tools such as search engines - the language barrier between English and AUSLAN means that many of them are not effective users of search engines because they have only a limited knowledge of what are appropriate keywords to use. New Web 2.0 technologies - and not least, virtual worlds - may create yet further challenges.

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