I’m someone who tends to do a lot of work solo, but once in a while, I see myself working in groups. This typically arises during academic settings, but is a broad enough concept to be applied to any areas of life. There have been advantages and disadvantages of working in groups, but one thing is clear: there’s a clear correspondence between the number of people in the group and my level of enlightenment, productivity, and satisfaction. I imagine that many deaf people will agree with this simple tactic that I call the Power of Two rule:

Divide people into groups of two.

If that’s not possible, then try three people, then four, and so on … but always be sure to use the minimum amount of people in each group possible. Why do I consider this a deaf-friendly tactic? Because it’s much easier to communicate in a one-on-one setting as compared to a many-on-one setting.

Let’s compare the two situations. Suppose a professor of a college computer programming class assigns students to work together in groups of three on some major project. (Furthermore, suppose there’s one deaf student in the class.) Assuming all three students are roughly at the same skill level, I can see three situations arising.

  1. One student dominates the decision-making of the project, and acts as the de facto leader, while the other two essentially obey orders. The workload may or may not be equal, but what stands out here are the social dynamics between the leading student and the two others.
  2. Two students become closer to each other, while the third is more or less isolated, relegated to following the lead of the other two. Again, I’m intentionally ignoring the workload here — maybe the isolated student works more, less, or just as much as the other two.
  3. The three students are equally close to each other. In other words, if we were to assign a measure of how friendly two students were to each other, the score would be roughly equal for all three of the possible pairings of the three students.

From my experience, #3 rarely happens, unless the professor was lucky enough to assign to a group three students who knew each other equally well. And I believe #2 probably happens more often than #1. The more I think about it, the more I believe a deaf student mingling with hearing students is likely to be the unfortunate third ring in the social group. From a hearing person’s perspective, he or she basically has the choice between interacting with someone who can talk and hear just as well versus someone in which communication tends to be more difficult and may require third party assistance. Given the convenience, why wouldn’t that person opt to talk with the hearing person more often? Obviously, I’m ignoring tons of extraneous factors, but I consider them irrelevant to my main argument.

But if there’s only two people in a group … isn’t that much more helpful to a deaf person? Now, there’s really no choice for either member of the group not to communicate with his or her partner. Moreover, I believe that in a group of two, members become more comfortable having personal discussions without the third person. So the benefit of two people is that, as they hash through ways to complete a project, the collaboration among the two is on a closer level than with three people. Both members also have a larger say in the decision-making process as compared to if they were in a group of three. Thus, it becomes easier for the members to know exactly what’s going on in their project.

So to anyone thinking about dividing up people, I suggest keeping the “Power of Two” rule in mind.

[This post is part of a series that I started here.]