Deaf studies

Audism: a form of discrimination

Audism, along the line of racism, sexism, and so on, is widely prevalent that most hearing people aren't aware of it. It's commonly overlooked. First, let's define the term audism, coined by Tom Humphries in 1975.

Crack Audism image
Image screenshot from Crack the Audism (2003),

What is audism?

Audism is invariably defined as:

Audism n. 1. The notion that one is superior based on one's ability to hear or behave in the manner of one who hears. (Tom Humphries, 1975)

2. A system of advantage based on hearing ability. (Wellmann, 1992)

3. A metaphysical orientation that links human identity with speech. (Deaf Studies conference by Bahan and Bauman, 2000.)

Audism in Action

Let's explore some scenarios related to audism that happened in real life in educational settings, employment, family life, and everyday life. The stories are kind of universal among many Deaf people of the days.

Audism in Education

"A Deaf administrator told me this: a [hearing] parent had come to his superior, objecting to their child being placed in a classroom headed by a Deaf teacher. The superior listened for a half hour of parental concerns about speech modeling and so on, then incredulously exclaimed, 'You want to prevent your (own) child from becoming a teacher of deaf children, too?'" -- Dianrez, 2011. [1]

Many deaf children experienced abuses, especially in the 20th century: slapping on tiny deaf children's hands with a ruler for using sign language, slapping on the little cheek for not properly pronouncing the letter/sound "L" when the child had a tongue tie from birth, ...

Hearing teachers give more attention and compliments to deaf children with more speech skills but less academic skills than deaf children with higher academic skills but less or no speech skills. Deaf people generally value education over speech skills.

Allyship: The best educational experiences that many Deaf children have are the bilingual Deaf teachers and a few hearing teachers who are fluent in ASL and have excellent attitude toward Deaf children, such as the belief that Deaf children are as fully capable as hearing children.

Audism in Employment

A few examples of audism in employment are: hiring a hearing person over a better qualified deaf person for a job position; dismissing a job application without giving a deaf person an interview when she/he may be one of the best workers...

Glass ceiling: The agency hired a hearing interpreter/educator and created an assistant position for a better qualified Deaf educator/administrator instead of giving the Deaf educator the position and created an assistant position for the interpreter/educator.

Audism-based Linguicism

Some examples of audism on language are: judging a deaf person's poor English when not knowing that she/he may be an immigrant; judging Deaf people for not vocally speaking when they can read and write English very well, ...

Loud applause when a deaf toddler makes a single sound (no word) in front of the microphone yet silence when a deaf or hearing coda toddler with hundreds of vocabulary tells a story in sign language. This has happened multiple times in early child intervention programs and assessments.

A hearing academian sent a snobbish email with her signature that included "PhD" to a Deaf-run website that helps educate hearing people about the Deaf world, harshly criticizing the owner to proofread their English in the posts! English was the owner's second language. On the other hand, hearing English-ASL interpreters regularly make grammatical errors, semantic errors, and mistakes in ASL (as a second language) every day and get away with paychecks.

More anecdotes

One of my students admitted that at first she was annoyed by the open captioning on a television screen but later realized her own audism. Applause to her honest self-analysis.

In closing on the first day of class after discussion on audism, I asked the students in ASL via an interpreter, "When taking a course of the First Nations' language and culture, do you expect a white teacher who is not native to their language and culture?" Virtually everyone either shook head or replied "no".

Hmm, okay. "How many of you thought or anticipated that your ASL instructor would be hearing to teach ASL before coming in class on the first day of ASL 111 last semester?"

Many raised hands and giggled. I smiled and was pleased with their sincerity. "Isn't that audism? :) End of class. See you next class."

That's not all. More stories, anecdotes, and examples are mentioned here and there throughout this website and beyond.

Do's Allyship and Don'ts Audism

Deaf people see themselves as a linguistic-cultural group and they are all human beings with intelligence and human feeling no different from hearing people.

Change attitude. Don't change deaf people, their language, their modality of language, and culture. Embrace diversity.

Listen. Unpack -isms (audism, linguicism, phonocentrism, ethnocentrism, cultural appropriation, hearing privilege, micro-aggression, hearing fragility, and to name a few more).


[1] Dianrez. Accessed, June 20, 2011. an-answer-to-mishka-zena%E2%80%99s-noble-and-just-question/

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What is dysconscious audism? What is phonocentrism? What is Linguicism?

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