Audism and How It Affects Deaf People

I'm Better Than You

Deaf Caucasian friends signing at dinner table
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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 audists. For example, the refusal or failure to use sign language in the presence of a sign language-dependent person is considered audism.

According to an article in Capital D Magazine (vol.

1, issue 1) (now apparently defunct), Tom Humphries invented the word "audism" in 1975 to mean an attitude 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. I remember that when I was in my early teens, I liked a deaf girl who was strong ASL, but someone else (hearing) put down the girl because she was strong ASL and weak in English.

Audism in Deaf Culture

Audism has been the subject of plays, including the "Audism Monologues" produced by LightKitchen. In the Audism Monologues, true stories are told of deaf people experiencing oppression. At the second national professional development conference of the American Sign Language Teachers Association, Elizabeth Lucey presented "Oppress-Me-Finish: Combating Audism in the ASL Classroom." In addition, at the Deaf Way II (2002) Genie Gertz presented "Dyconscious Audism: The Conceptual Incarceration of Deaf People in a Hegemonically Hearing-Oriented Culture."

Additional Resources on Audism

  • Gallaudet University library offers a detailed fact sheet on audism.
  • The Buff and Blue student newsmagazine of Gallaudet University had an editorial, "Does Audism Exist on Campus?" in its November 11, 2002, issue. This article examined the question of whether audism existed at Gallaudet University itself, based on the experiences of a deaf student, Brendan Stern. Mr. Stern wrote a web essay on audism, "Autism, Anchovies, and Audism," in which he cites more examples of alleged audism at Gallaudet University and complains about Gallaudet's communication policy, which he says does not make signing mandatory at all times.
  • Harlan Lane's book, the Mask of Benevolence: Disabling the Deaf Community, is primarily about audism.

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