Audism
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A common (I’d argue necessary) goal of educators is to promote social justice and to inspire and educate our students so they in turn pursue social justice. One of the ways we work towards this goal is to educate our students about the various forms of discrimination at play in our society. We study the racism of slavery and Jim Crow; we investigate gender discrimination in textbooks and commercial advertising; we read about the anti-Semitism of Nazi Germany. There are other examples, such as ageism, homophobia, and ethnocentrism, that are not as widely embraced in the classroom but would appear on most educators’ lists of “-isms.”

But there is another form of discrimination that I have never seen, heard, or read about being discussed in a mainstream classroom: audism.

Audism, according to the Gallaudet University Library, has been defined as:

• …the belief that life without hearing is futile and miserable, that hearing loss is a tragedy and "the scourge of mankind," and that deaf people should struggle to be as much like hearing people as possible. Deaf activists Heidi Reed and Hartmut Teuber at D.E.A.F. Inc., a community service and advocacy organization in Boston, consider audism to be "a special case of ableism." Audists, hearing or deaf, shun Deaf culture and the use of sign language, and have what Reed and Teuber describe as "an obsession with the use of residual hearing, speech, and lip-reading by deaf people." (Pelka 1997: 33)

• …the notion that one is superior based on one's ability to hear or behave in the manner of one who hears. (Zak 1996)

• …an attitude based on pathological thinking which 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 and Alcorn 1995: 85)

• …the corporate institution for dealing with deaf people, dealing with them by making statements about them, authorizing views of them, describing them, teaching about them, governing where they go to school and, in some cases, where they live; in short, audism is the hearing way of dominating, restructuring, and exercising authority over the deaf community. It includes such professional people as administrators of schools for deaf children and of training programs for deaf adults, interpreters, and some audiologists, speech therapists, otologists, psychologists, psychiatrists, librarians, researchers, social workers, and hearing aid specialists. (Lane 1992: 43)

Whether or not you decide to teach about audism in your class, it is important for all teachers to be aware of the issue, the terminology, and the implications the concept has for all of us, hearing, hard of hearing, or deaf.

There are a few websites devoted to exploring the issue of audism and raising consciousness about it, but this one in particular provides a wealth of information, examples, and perspectives.

According to Ketcham, the mere fact that “audism” has been around as a word since 1975 but still is so little known is itself an example of audism. The hearing community takes for granted that deafness is a “problem” or “dis-ability” and thus does not perceive the slights and micro-aggressions posed to deaf people on a constant basis. Many deaf people take offense to the assumption by audists that they should wear hearing aids, get cochlear implants, or respect decisions made for them without the input of deaf people.

Ketcham includes two poignant examples of audism related to education/youth. First, deaf people are included in the Special Olympics even though their ability to hear has little to no bearing on their ability to perform physically. Second, he objects to the notion of including deaf people in the category of “special education” – for this deaf activist, like many of the deaf people who reject inclusion models of educating deaf students, the notion that there is anything “special” about the education of deaf people belies the pro-hearing perspective of the society. (Relatedly, the Microsoft Word program with which this entry was composed did not recognize the word “audism” or “audist.”)

The point of this wiki entry is not to take sides in the debate over the role of deaf culture or the appropriateness of inclusion education for deaf students. Rather, it is to introduce a relevant topic of social justice to teachers, regardless of whether they teach deaf or hard of hearing students. The more we are aware of other peoples’ perspectives, the more we can work towards a more just society for all.

References:

Ketcham, Erick. “Audism.” The Sandbox. 16 May 2006. 2 August 2007. <http://www.raa-deaf.org/sandbox1.html>.

Harrington, Tom. “Audism: Frequently Asked Questions.” Gallaudet Library Resources. October 2002. 2 August 2007. <http://library.gallaudet.edu/dr/faq-audism.html>.

This page was created by Dan Gordon