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


  1. yep, classic examples of audism. Sad about the mother who refuse to have anything to do with you. I don't understand hearing parents of deaf children like that. their behavior is unacceptable and I don't care if they are grieving over their child being deaf as if it is death.

  2. Well, if their behavior is unacceptable, we need to re-think our responses to their feelings. While I don't understand them either, I think we shouldn't say "I don't care about their feelings." Their feelings are real, as are ours about them. How do we get them to want to converse with us and to become friends with us? Can we be a better friend to them? Those are $64,000 questions.

    I've got a number of hearing parents with deaf children who are dear friends of mine. Our children are friends, and we do social events together. It's a win-win situation for both of us. I learn as much from them as I like to think they learn from me as friends generally do.

    We appreciate your posting your comment here.

  3. A good preliminary discussion of audism, but you are primarily focusing on audism at the interpersonal level. There is also the institutional level. For example, when I was mainstreamed, I had to go to detention hall because I had failed to change into my PE clothes one too many times. That wasn't the problem -- I knew that was the consequence, and I accepted it.

    That afternoon when I was supposed to go to DH, I went after school ended and found the room. I sat there, but nobody was there -- no other students, no supervisor. After about 10 - 15 mins, I went to the Office (across the hall) to check on what was going on, if I'd gone to the wrong room or something. It happened that my homeroom teacher was there, checking his mail. They told me that there had been an announcement on the loudspeaker that DH was cancelled that day. I asked why my teacher didn't tell me about the announcement, and he said that I never went to DH, so he didn't think I needed to know that announcement. So I was ready to go home, but busses had already left, and they wouldn't let me walk home (about a half mile or less) due to school policy. My teacher said he would drive me home after he finished work in an hour. So I had to sit in the Office for an hour, doing nothing, waiting for my teacher. Pretty much like DH, right? I considered that as basically having served my time, and I should not have to go to DH. The school said no, since I had not been formally in DH.

    I didn't argue it strongly at the time, but I was basically punished twice for the same thing, due to institutional audism (loudspeaker announcements that I had no access to, and their refusal to recognize that I had essentially served my time due to no fault of my own).

  4. I understand. It just upset me, that's all, especially years have pass and they still act like that.

  5. I agree what you both have said about audism.

    There are deaf/hearing impaired bloggers in Deafread complaining about the word audism because they do not want to be recognized as audism when they display their audistic attitude of their style in writing criticizing other Deaf people's English.

    But unfortunately Tayler Mayer embrace those "three little rascals" supporting the recent AB2072 bill out in California.

  6. That's an example that could make our deaf students resigned to "give up" on the system as many of us have.

    I assume you didn't have an interpreter in your class when they made the announcement. Correct me if my assumption was incorrect.

    I would like to ask you, Don G., if you don't mind my asking. Did you talk with your parents? If not, why not? If so, what was their response? I know this is a very personal issue, and if you opt not to answer, I understand completely.

    Reason I asked is your example could bring us to discuss how some of our deaf students don't have the same kind of communication with their parents as, for example, my children who have had informed me of such injustice. I would then take care of the issues with the school next morning.

    I think that it is important for us to realize Don G.'s example happens too often to our deaf students. And that it undoubtedly chips away at a deaf soul. Some people are more able to shrug it off than others.

    Don G., we thank you for posting your "institutional" example.

  7. For Anonymous 11:45am, I understand your feelings.

    I think we all need to dialogue more about this.

    Whether Tayler Mayer does "embrace those three little rascals" is subject to one's opinions. I suppose that if we ask Tayler why he "embraces" them, he could explain himself. Would we agree with his reasons? Maybe and maybe not.

    We can and should have a respectful discussion about what we think is audistic blogging. BUT I acknowledge it is better to do that in person. Unfortunately, we all live in different parts of the country.

    Maybe some day one of us can host a physical (as in person) summit of bloggers/vloggers from both sides of the spectrum. Martin Luther King said, "I have a Dream." And so do Sheri and me.

    We share more common experiences than we let on.

  8. I did tell my parents, and I think I tried to say it was basically punishing me twice for the same crime, they sort of sympathized, but said that I had to follow the rules of the school. So they obviously did not understand or see the audism inherent in that whole situation.

  9. Oh, forgot to add -- yes, I was "mainstreamed" (this was before PL 94-142 was enacted, so the term really wasn't used then) without an interpreter (I didn't know any sign at that time, so wouldn't have helped anyway). The only "accommodation" I got was a swivel chair which was supposed to be able to help me turn around quicker to lipread other kids making comments, but of course, we know how that works out... But at least the chair was padded, and MUCH more comfortable than the regular chairs! ;-)

  10. Marla,

    I have the same dream but MLK did not get to see his dream achieved when the racist person end it, we need to be on guard of those audist whether it's a deaf/hoh or hearing person.

  11. I will offer two test cases:

    1. Is cochlear implant by itself audism?

    2. Is it audism to place cochlear implant on deaf babies?

    If you are not aware, there are three faces of audism, according to several people's opinion. They are individual, systemic or institutionalized (as noted by Dr. Donald A. Grushkin above) and metaphysical audism. See . Please note that just because I mention it does not necessarily mean that I agree with everything in the article. I mention three faces to illustrate the complexity in delineating the boundary of audism.

    Joseph Pietro Riolo

    Public domain notice: I put all of my expressions in this post in the public domain.

  12. Hey Marla,
    Thanks for this post. I am curious about your opinions and appreciate that you are willing to share. Much of what you share relates to my family.


    Helicopter mom of deaf kid

  13. That teacher who refused to speak to you after having a deaf child herself may be dealing with feelings of guilt. She may feel she is being punished for dealing with you or your child. Many people feel this way even if they know it is irrational.

    A deaf family friend was visiting his cousin who just had a new baby. He held the baby briefly, congratulated the family, and heard nothing more from them since. Later he found that the baby was discovered to be deaf and the family felt he had caused it somehow by touching the baby.

  14. Joseph, please allow me to read the article you mentioned. And I will respond accordingly.

  15. JPR --

    The cochlear implant by itself is not audism. However, the motives behind the development of the CI were audistic, i.e., metaphysical audism (Deaf children need to hear in order to have a happy, functional life), institutional audism (medical community collaborating to push CIs on parents and Deaf children), and individual audism (parents: I can't imagine how my child and I could be happy if my child can't hear and talk!).

    So, to implant children with CIs is often based on audism (see above).

  16. Thanks Joseph for your question and thanks Don for answering! As we stated, there are many layers of audism. This article intends to be a forum by which we can discuss different examples people can share, so that we can identify what type of audism and or if it is at all.

  17. marla and sheri - thanks for the post

    examples of audism:
    - a judge ordering parents to make their Deaf child wear her CIs all her waking hours

    - a doctor telling a Deaf person s/he will never get hired because they have a "speech impediment"

    - a prospective employer telling a Deaf person s/he they can not be hired since they can not talk directly on the telephone even though it is not an essential function of the job

    - parents telling their Deaf offspring s/he can not get a drivers license but allowing the younger Hearing sibling to get a drivers license

    - a teacher saying a child has "NO Language" when the child is fluent in ASL

    - a professor saying that Deaf students have no reason to formally student ASL as it has no benefits in the "real world"

    - a nurse telling a mother "Thank G-d your offspring is not Deaf like you"

    - a doctor asking about our ears when we have appts to discuss other body parts

    - a waitress asking a CODA what her/his parents would like to order and then giving the CODA the check

    - a colleague saying "you have such beautiful speech. you should use it more often."

    there are more but those r just a few

    all truly have happened

    thank u again for initiating this dialogue

    in a word or two - audism = uncool



  18. (I am not sure what happened to my new comment that I submitted yesterday morning. I am resubmitting it.)

    To Dr. Donald A. Grushkin:

    You have to explain which motives behind the development of cochlear implant are kosher and which motives are audistic.

    Likewise, you have to give examples where it is not considered as audism for parents to place cochlear implant on their deaf babies and toddlers.

    One of the reasons why some people abhor the term "audism" is that it is misused or abused to vilify cochlear implant. And, they see double standard when it is not equally applied to hearing aids, assistive listening devices and other technologies that help people to hear better.

    Joseph Pietro Riolo

    Public domain notice: I put all of my expressions in this post in the public domain.

  19. JPR-

    The develoment of the CI was entirely audistic -- the developers were only doing it because to them, Deaf people need to be able to hear (metaphysical audism). In addition, they were doing it for the money. The same can be said for the development of the hearing aid.

    Now as for parents implanting their babies/toddlers, if they are using ASL with their children and viewing the CI as only a SUPPLEMENTAL TOOL which their child might use in order to gain some additional information about their environment, then we MAY say that the parent's decision was not audistic (however, I would suspect that there is still some metaphysical audism lurking behind their decision, since they feel that their child NEEDS this "additional information" despite the obvious risks inherent in doing this surgery for what is essentially a non-life-threatening condition).

  20. heye joseph

    dont know if don plans to be back here

    to me folks motives r a very thorny area to tread into - even psychologists note that its one of the grayer areas and difficult to measure and assess - ie think of all Freud's theories re: various coping and defense mechanicisms

    but i would be willing to have a conversation with ya examining the possible audism behind CIs if u'd like. if u only have eyes for Don G that is fine with me.

    if u r game - shall we do it over at "People of the Eye" so that this thread can focus on its main point - audism in general?

    i do very much think that conversations about what CIs are and are not - are really important but they r also VERY VERY VERY hard to pursue cuz there is so much baggage that comes with it and because of the other thorny realm of values and also the difference btw intellectual / theoretical and the personal and practical

    if ur game - let me know and ill set up a thread soon



  21. Do you also feel it is rascist to suggest to immigrants or children of immigrants that it may be benificial to them to learn english? It seems to me to be the same thing. I would never tell someone they NEED to learn a new language (especially as I myself find that nearly impossible due to a speech impediment despite my best efforts) but it is common sense that not being able to communitcate with the vast majority of people around you is going to create certain limitations regardless of what your native language is or the language of those around you. This is by no means being a racist or audist it is being a realist.