School of Communication and the Arts


Doctor of Philosophy in Communication (PhD)


Sandra Romo


deaf, hard of hearing, Instagram, interpersonal relationships, social media, communication, hearing, qualitative




The purpose of this ethnographic study was to understand how deaf and hard of hearing individuals use Instagram to interact with and develop interpersonal relationships with hearing individuals. The researcher used her personal experience as a member of the deaf and hard of hearing community to connect with members of the researched population on a personal level. The theories guiding this study were Elihu Katz’s uses and gratifications theory, Joseph B. Walther’s social information processing theory (SIPT), and Sandra Ball-Rokeach and Melvin DeFleur’s media dependency theory. These theories were applied to help the researcher gain a better understanding of the motives for why deaf and hard of hearing individuals choose to use or not use Instagram as a communication tool and to consider whether Instagram nurtures or hinders their interpersonal relationships with the hearing world. After analyzing the qualitative data, the researcher also included new medium theory as a lens to explain how participants shared common interests and supplemented FtF communication. 16 open-ended ethnographical interviews lasting no more than 1 hour each were conducted over Zoom. Interviews were recorded from those participants who gave consent and then hand-coded using textual and structural descriptions. Participants were also required to provide the researcher with .html downloads of their Instagram data where their comments and messages were read, coded, and analyzed. Data were collected from the interviews and the Instagram data files to allow the researcher to interpret and report on participants’ experiences with Instagram in a way that was as thorough and accurate as possible. The findings of this research study showed that Instagram did not have a significant impact on the interpersonal relationships between deaf and hard of hearing individuals and the hearing world. Deaf and hard of hearing individuals prefer to use Instagram to engage with the hearing loss community, educate themselves and others about their hearing loss, and advocate for their needs as deaf and hard of hearing individuals.

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