Audism: Oppression in the Lives of Deaf Individuals

Audism is an attitude based on pathological thinking that results in a negative stigma toward anyone who does not hear; like racism or sexism, audism judges, labels, and limits individuals on the basis of whether a person hears and speaks (Humphrey & Alcorn, 1995: 85). Audism reflects the medical view of deafness as a disability that must be fixed. It is rooted in the historical belief that deaf people were savages without language, equating language to humanity. Because many Deaf people grew up in hearing families who did not learn to sign, audism may be ingrained. Audists can be either hearing or deaf. This attitude can also be present among Deaf individuals.

Examples of audism:

  1. Jumping in to help a deaf person communicate.
  2. Asking a Deaf person to read your lips or write when s/he has indicated this isn’t preferred.
  3. Making phone calls for a deaf person since they "can't."
  4. Refusing to call an interpreter when one is requested.
  5. Assuming that those with better speech/English skills are superior.
  6. Asking a Deaf person to "tone down" their facial expressions because they are making others uncomfortable.
  7. Refusing to explain to a Deaf person why everyone around him is laughing – "never mind, I’ll tell you later, it doesn't matter."
  8. Devoting a significant amount of instructional time for a Deaf child to lipreading and speech therapy, rather than educational subjects.

Resources provided below explore the concept of audism and the construct of deafness in American mainstream culture.

Audism: The notion that one is superior based on one’s ability to hear or behave in the manner of one who hears. - From Tom Humphries, The Making of a Word: Audism, 1975