You may have heard d/Deaf/Hard of hearing people speak about discrimination, prejudice, or the unwillingness of the hearing community to accommodate their needs. Discover what the term means and how to avoid perpetuating Audism.
Who coined the term Audism?
It is a term used to describe the negative attitude towards the d/d/Deaf/HoH community. Audism is the attitude that hearing people are superior to the d/Deaf/HoH person or the d/Deaf/HoH community.
Tom Humphries coined the term audism in his doctoral dissertation titled "Communicating Across Cultures (Deaf-Hearing) and Language Learning" in 1977. Humphries defines the term in his dissertation as "the notion that one is superior based on one's ability to hear or to behave in the manner of one who hears."
Harlan Lane's book "Mask of Benevolence: Disabling the Deaf Community" delves into this concept deeply. Lane and Humphries took different approaches to uncover hearing privilege. Humphries focused on individuals, whereas Lane examined communities and society in general.
What does Audism mean to the d/Deaf/HoH community?
A hearing person may have come across the word Audism for the first time without knowing this form of discrimination exists. The audist label refers to those aware of Deaf culture but chooses to ignore or defy it for various reasons. You also can be an audist when you do not know Deaf culture and decide to add your opinions on how we should live our life.
d/Deaf people and hard-of-hearing individuals go through Audism when they mind their business and do things differently from hearing people. It also affects d/Deaf students at school. It can occur anywhere at any moment without anyone knowing that they are perpetuating the stereotypes. Let us explore a few examples of unintentional Audism.
What are examples of Audism?
If you are not familiar with how casually audism creeps into our everyday conversations or actions, here are a few examples:
A hearing person makes assumptions about a d/Deaf/Hard of hearing person's ability
Teachers in high school assumed I would fail in life because I was a shy and introverted deaf person. A few strangers took a look at me, and some people even went so far as to predict that I would not amount to anything just because I could not hear.
Assuming that a d/Deaf/Hard of hearing person would not get far in education and career
I have personally encountered a handful of people in Sri Lanka who assume that if their child is deaf, what is the point of sending them to school since they can't hear- this assumption is dangerous as it perpetuates the view that there is no inclusive/ accommodative education for d/Deaf and hard of hearing students.
There are occasions when a d/Deaf and hard-of-hearing individual applies for a job. They immediately assume that d/Deaf/Hard of hearing people have not had a good education. They are surprised when we put our educational qualifications on our resume.
Assuming the worst and giving pettiness
Whenever I disclose that I am deaf, people apologize immediately after hearing that. Most people assume that d/Deaf/HoH people live lonely lives. Some go as far as to think that d/Deaf/HoH students can not learn; I have encountered this twice.
But when they hear us live our lives as 'normal'- talking, mingling with people, and being hot and bothered with our education and career. They immediately shift from a pitiful mindset to a patronizing attitude.
Developing a patronizing attitude
Some people have approached me and casually stated, "You speak well for a deaf person."
It is weird to have someone come up and so easily utter that when we have our emotional baggage, struggles, and self-esteem issues. With support from our parents, we had to get the confidence and work on ourselves.
After the patronizing attitude, they move on to inspiration porn. Every time we disabled people do something every day; we are applauded, praised for doing something everyone does, and placed on a pedestal. However, we continue to look for jobs, switch schools, get married, and do everything else that regular people do. Yet we face harsh judgments and the presumptions that we are different and powerless.
The ableist people think we do not deserve the same quality of life as hearing people due to able-bodied upbringing.
Enforcing Oral and spoken language instead of sign language
From a historical perspective, society judged Deaf people harshly for using sign language. There was one historical event that had an impact on the lives of Deaf sign language users: The Milan Conference of 1880.
At the conference, policymakers decided to impose oral education and spoken speech on Deaf students, altogether banning sign language from all schools. The resolutions passed at the meeting led to the dismissal of many d/Deaf/HoH teachers, a decline in d/Deaf/HoH professionals, and severe consequences for the lives of d/Deaf/HoH students.
How did American Sign Language (ASL) survive? William Stokoe, a long-time linguistics professor at Gallaudet College, declared sign language a true language in 1970. In the end, Gallaudet university's decision to keep sign language played a crucial role in its survival.
Audism affects not only the hearing population; d/Deaf/HoH people can unconsciously be audist. Let us explore how d/Deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals can be audist.
What is dysconscious Audism?
Audism does not only affect the hearing population; d/Deaf/Hard of hearing people can also develop and internalize audist beliefs. Again, disagreements within the d/Deaf/HoH community arise due to their upbringing with their hearing family members and little to no awareness of the Deaf culture.
Resistance to deaf-centred education, lack of trust in d/Deaf/HoH leaders, apologetic about one's d/Deaf/Hard of hearing experience/needs, and acceptance of oppression are all examples of Dysconscious Audism.
If you, as a d/Deaf/HoH person, are unaware of your audist beliefs. It is also time to make a change within yourself.
How can you avoid being an Audist?
Awareness! Spend time researching people's experiences with Deafness/hearing loss and what it means to them. Immerse yourself in learning about the Deaf community; ask your d/Deaf/HoH friend; I'll be happier to clear up your doubts. Be mindful of how you phrase sentences and situations, and most importantly, avoid making assumptions.
Recognize our efforts, but remember, we are not here to inspire you.