Saturday, October 23, 2010

Raising our Consciousness about Audism

by Sheri Farinha and Marla Hatrak

John Locke (1632-1704) said, “…new opinions are always suspected, and usually opposed, without any other reason but because they aren’t already common…A solution would be a devotion to freedom of ideas and expressions.”

We would like to assert that, in our community, audism is real.

Recent blogs and vlogs by deaf people claim that the term audism is being overused, or cry false when another author uses the term audist. The perceptions of what audism is and what audism is not vary widely. Although the term, audism, is relatively new, the concept is a practice that has been around for hundreds of years. Granted, labeling every negative feeling about a situation can be problematic, but disregarding complaints about audism can be hurtful. Every situation is worth examining. The term audism helps us to identify situations for what they are, and move toward knowledge and even improving our world.

But first, we need to develop a shared understanding of the term. At this time, when the idea of audism is relatively new, there seems to be a great deal of misunderstanding about what audism is or is not. Realize that the issue is an age-old problem, even if the newness of the term audism is being resisted.

Audism, as coined by Tom Humphries in 1975, is defined as:

“The notion that one is superior based on one’s ability to hear or behave in the manner of one who hears.”

According to Dr. Humphries, audism is “an attitude and belief that people who hear and speak, or have good English are superior. This applies whether the person who hears and speaks is Deaf or Hearing.” (

Interestingly, another definition of audism can be found on website:

“What is audism? A simple definition would be that it is a negative or oppressive attitude towards Deaf people by either deaf or hearing people and organizations, and a failure to accommodate them. People who have audist attitudes are considered to be audist. For example, the refusal or failure to use sign language in the presence of a sign language-dependent person is considered audism.” (

Another definition to share comes from AFA (Audism Free America): “Audism is attitudes and practices based on the assumption that behaving in the ways of those who speak and hear is desired and best. It produces a system of privilege, thus resulting in stigma, bias, discrimination, and prejudice—in overt or covert ways—against Deaf culture, American Sign Language, and Deaf people of all walks of life.” ( )

Using these three definitions of audism, we can see how audism aptly describe the experience in our daily lives interacting with hearing people and deaf people. This is only experienced by people who are deaf – not anyone else - never mind how much they can hear or how well they can speak, or how they choose to communicate.

We want to clear up one important thing: a person’s decision to have a cochlear implant does not make the person audist and by itself, it is not audism. There are people who have CIs, interact mainly within the hearing community but who also are respectful towards deaf people in the deaf community. Cool. We also know folks who have CIs but mainly interact with Deaf people. Cool. Where the line gets crossed is when an individual thinks that, by getting a CI, he or she is now better than deaf people who do not have a CI or who do not “hear and use voice.” In other words - -If you use your ability to hear to put down others who can’t, that’s audism. Not cool.

Every Deaf person is affected by audism, resulting in what’s called “dysconscious audism” and some are more seriously affected than others. Many haven’t had an opportunity to honestly explore the various levels of audism around us and within us. This article is one way to begin this self-reflection and analysis.

There are many layers of audism. It’s important to check within ourselves for the attitude displayed, which may indicate audism as defined above, be it conscious or dysconscious.

Whether it has to do with your experiences on the job, or experiences in your social or family life, there remains a great need to raise our consciousness and show respect for all individuals who are Deaf

We don't think many people realize that those of us who were born to hearing parents and who grew up with a lot of interaction with the hearing community--especially if we were mainstreamed--dealt with audism but didn’t know it at the time.

Many of us have lived through thousands of put-downs and insults by members of the hearing community, whether intentional or unconscious; those types of interactions have left their scars on many of us.

Sheri and I dialogued about our life experiences. Here Sheri lists a few:

In 8th grade, we lived in Ohio for a short time. A hearing boy passed his class ring to others to pass to me during class to ask me to go steady. By the time the ring got to me, I was shocked at the mocking laughter by all students in the class, as if they thought I would take it seriously. "Give it to the Deaf girl.”
When I was in high school I applied for a job at one of the Williams Sonoma stores. They interviewed me and then told me they could not hire me because I was Deaf. I was so upset. Went home and told my Mom. To this day, my family and I refuse to shop there.

Shopping at Macys, another customer approached me upon learning I was Deaf, (because I did not hear the cashier call out "next,") and said to me, "you really should get a CI, then you would not need to use sign language, my daughter’s niece has it and loves it." I felt insulted by her approach toward me as her attitude was one of disdain and impatience; it took a great deal of restraint not to offer my middle finger.

Marla adds:
Dysconscious audism:
When I was a high schooler and a college student, I would look down with disdain those who had poor English skills. It made me feel good I was “not one of those Deaf people with poor English skills.” After I decided it was a very wrong attitude, I have since then always offered to edit deaf people’s English when they wanted their papers in English.

There was a woman at my church who taught my Deaf daughter 4th grade-6th grade Sunday school when my daughter was a 4th grader (my daughter had an interpreter). She was her teacher for a few years. Then she had a baby who they discovered was deaf. My church interpreter informed me, and I invited the family to our house to talk. She did not accept my invitation. I understood at that time why she would not want to meet with me and my family. A few years later, I joined a Community Bible Study that met every week. During my second year, I was surprised to see that woman again in my group. I tried to be pleasant, but she would never make eye contact with me. Never talked with me. Once, she was absent a few weeks, and when she returned, she said hi to every one except me (there was probably ten women in our group). I wanted to run out of the bible study, but I didn’t. To this day, it still hurts, no matter how I try to understand the situation.

In each situation it is very hard to forget it. Triggers, every now and then, bring such stories to the surface. For some people, the experiences take a lifetime to heal. With each situation we could ask ourselves, was it really audism or was it prejudice?

Prejudice is the pre-judging of a situation or person without having all of the facts. Prejudice refers to any unreasonable attitude that is unusually resistant to rational influence. All audism is prejudice, but not all prejudice is audism.

We feel we ALL have the moral responsibility to ensure our deaf community is respectful and to be more conscious of things said or done and to ensure that our actions do not cross the line into audism. We'd like to invite you to join us in this discussion to communally list examples of comments or experiences that are clearly acts of audism and some examples that sound like audism but are not. From this, we hope to see a new checklist developed, to refer to when new situations surface.

People should make sure -- every time they use that word, audism -- it isn’t an accusation. People should, for a while, include a short description of why they think a comment, situation, etc., is audism. This would prevent a rush of judgment when we describe the incident and why we think it is a case of audism.

We hope you can also share your experiences here with us to dialogue and learn about audism vs. prejudice. Our goal is to help our community develop a behavior checklist one can utilize as a self-assessment at some point. This is done in other communities for racism.

Please feel free to participate in this open forum. We ask that you follow the 10 ground rules listed in guidelines provided by NAACP posted on Handeyes site:

Thank you for joining us to do your part to raise consciousness about audism!

Our best, Marla and Sheri