Audism: A Name for Deaf Prejudice and Wrong Assumptions

Meryl in football gearAlicia mentioned audism in a recent comment and it was the first I heard of the word. Audism, like racism and sexism, is discrimination against deaf people.

Wikipedia provides examples of audism:

  • Deaf people cannot write well because they are deaf or because English is not their first language.
  • Deaf people cannot be successful without the aid of hearing devices like cochlear implants.
  • Deaf people who can speak well are more successful or smarter than those who can’t or don’t speak.
  • Deaf people cannot perform well in sports due to their loss of hearing, which is related to the sense of balance.
  • Deaf people cannot drive. (Seriously?)

My love of sports

I’ve heard some of these, but not the sports reference, which surprised me most considering sports was my thing during my kid years. I only remember of ONE instance where my hearing loss embarrassed me in a sports situation and it happened during basketball practice not a game. We were warming up and I was practicing on the far end of the gym. Coach called us to huddle and I kept on practicing. Blush

Calling the ball in volleyball and softball was never a problem. I also played soccer and dabbled in tennis, golf, and racquetball. Heck, I was a referee with TCU‘s intramural sports program in my freshman year in college. I loved it.

I didn’t realize this until much later that sports is most likely responsible for my confidence. Had I not played, I may not have had as much confidence or success. My daughter was at volleyball practice and I saw a chance to play with a volleyball. Whenever I watched her team practice, I wanted to go out on the court and join them.

Anyway, as I warmed up — I felt more confident, outgoing and talkative. One of my fondest childhood memories is earning an most valuable player (MVP) award twice in one softball season. (Once for the team and once in a tournament.)

The idea of coaching kids …

My son had a baseball game last Saturday and it brought back a few softball memories. I got a little too excited when he hit his first double. (He struck out every time at the last game, so I couldn’t help it.) I also play catch with him trying to help him improve. We picked up oil for his glove just like my dad did for me. Back then, Dad had to pour the oil on the glove, spread it evenly, stick a softball in and put a rubber band around the glove. Now, all we have to do is spray the glove and leave it.

I’d probably enjoy coaching kids, but I’m not comfortable with the thought of it. (Ironic, isn’t it? Sports made me more confident and outgoing, but not coaching.) Although I’m used to it and accept it, I can do without the stares I get from them when I talk. No, I’ll just be a parent and watch my kids play.

A hint of audism

Back to audism. Many times when I misunderstood someone or asked to repeat something, I’d get looks of “Are you stupid?” During group conversations, I’d get lost or ask someone what the topic is — and then came the puzzled slash mad look that said they saw me as inferior.

I’ve taken up tennis in the last couple of weeks (since that’s what most adults play around here) and it’s been great to get back into a sport.

That’s why I have stuck with blogging after all of these years. People get to know me from what I post and nothing else.


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    • MM on May 27, 2006 at 10:25 am
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    It is not a word that finds much support across the pond (In the UK), mainly because (A) discrimination as a term already exists to describe things, and (B) Deaf cultural members have abused the term audist and applied it to other deaf people in a derogatory and disrespectful way, we also saw audism used to PROMOTE deaf culture, which again is a BAD image, it makes us look like whiongers and moaners at everyone,it’s a term NOT wanted here.
    We also do NOT accept hearing people are to blame for everything, and this term is blanket applied to them and affects our support options It is sad America continues to churn out these negative terms to slow access up, how can we remaion a positive force,when all people read is we whine all the time and blame others for everything that happens ? This creates an instant barrier before we can start,like deafie and other terms, NOT wanted, sorry this approach is dated and unhelpful, the UK has ‘Undeaf’ as well to add to the 58 OTHER words used to descrive someone with a hearing loss, wikipedia has it too ! Wikipedia is NOT a vaild dictionary anyone can say anything there and does.

    • Alicia on May 29, 2006 at 11:36 am
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    Hi Meryl, audism in sports is something I have experienced firsthand. I quit the varsity basketball team halfway through my senior season because of it. I was the 2nd tallest player on the team and had worked very hard over the summers improve my skills, more so than the other players. The coach even commented on how hard I worked.
    I was one of the most skilled players on both offense and defense, but here’s where I struggled – understanding the plays and the strategy behind the plays. I had interpreters for part of my basketball career, but even with interpreters I never had anyone take the time to explain strategy to me – or at least refer me to some good books to read. For the other players, many of those discussions took place on the bus, in the locker room, one-on-one with the coach or assistant coach. The information I did get were basically “dog commands” – run here, run there, set a pick there.
    Had I known what I know now, I would have met with the coach and requested that we work together to figure out how I could learn what I needed so that the team could benefit from my skills. But at the time, I was struggling and did not understand enough to know what exactly I was missing. I felt a great deal of shame. And I got little help from the coach, who really should’ve known better as an adult trained to identify and address players’ weaknesses. Was it out of ignorance or laziness? I don’t know. But it did happen – I was relegated to third-string status with first-string skills – because of my hearing status.
    As a result, for years afterwards I struggled with major confidence issues, especially in the workplace. I had recurring nightmares where I’d be on the court and I’d be running in slow motion while the coach was yelling at me. Or the ball would come at me again and again and I couldn’t quite catch it. Or I’d shoot the ball and it’d go nowhere near the hoop. I’d wake up from all those nightmares overwhelmed with shame. It took me years to come to terms with what had happened and to realize how I could better handle similar issues in the workplace. Only then did the nightmares stop.
    In response to MM’s comment, audism can go both ways, just as racism can go both ways. If a deaf person thinks less of a hearing person based solely on hearing status, that’s also audism. I disagree that “discrimination” is sufficient to describe it. That’s like saying the word “racism” is not needed. We DO need specific vocabulary in order to be able to better understand what is happening. Only then can we address it. The abuse of “audism” by a few does not negate its value, just as the abuse of “racism” by a few does not diminish its importance.

    • MM on May 30, 2006 at 8:49 am
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    Being from a democracy, best we agree to differ I think. I cna only comment the UK has not taken up this word or a number of others ‘invented’ in the USA, every term erects a barrier, because you have no control over how it is used. While I accept there is a driving need for a sector of deaf to say LOOK WE ARE HERE, WE ARE A CULTURE !” (sorry for shuting !), using a plethora of terms to ‘label’ those who aren’t works against them. They cultural deaf are a minority, they will never be anything else, no matter how much profile they raise. They are successful in the area of hearing loss, in that everyone KNOWS who they are, but the terminology and the bitter debates that rage everywhere on the net for example, suggest, everything in the garden isn’t as peaceful or as lovely as they would like it seen, Gallaudet/culture has lost respect over the deaf dean voting too, time I think for the moderate deaf people to reign-in the activists, who aren’t really helping. A silent majority is an apathetic one.

    • Alicia on May 31, 2006 at 9:09 am
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    Change is usually preceded by debate, bitter or not. In U.S. history, bitter debate happened before women were given the right to vote, before African Americans were given the right to vote. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated because of it. Does that mean he was wrong?
    MM, it seems like you think the deaf civil rights movement is about group wanting a culture of its own. The problem with the word “culture” is that most people associate it with things such as fine arts, theater, poetry, etc. Those things are great but this is really much deeper than that. The deaf civil rights movement is a group of people trying to point out that it is perfectly valid to live as a visual communicator. That it is wrong and illogical to discriminate against those who communicate using means other than the oral-aural method. And that this discrimination causes tremendous suffering.
    If everything were peachy for people with hearing loss, then there would be no discussion about change. This blog entry wouldn’t even exist. Just because a majority does not understand an issue does not mean the issue should be brushed under a rug.

    • MM on May 31, 2006 at 10:40 am
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    With due respect likening the deaf access issues to MLK’s civil rights campaign is stretching credibility a bit. Change comes via debate indeed, but will the cultural DEAF change ? (As they will have to as they move towards wider inclusion). So far the campaigns have been sparodic and a bit one-sided, deaf sign users doing a lot of it, but only for their own sector, the other millions of hearing loss people still have to fight their own corner, they are taking up the fight now, because they know the cultural deaf campaigns are not going to help or include them.
    An ASL/BSL system does NOT meet their needs. THAT is what the debates are about not about mainstream access, but acceptance from the ‘other side’ of the deaf/loss question. I don’t view cultural deaf campaigns all that helpful to others, barriers still exist for the ‘other’ deaf to get access to cultural/social areas too.
    The campaigns were never inclusive, and really, no different from the mainstream approach in that it tended to focus unduly on one sector only, there are many other sectors in hearing loss, many other MODES of communictaion, when they start in earnest, cultural deaf will find a LOT of changes are going to have to be made, including removing barriers they have set up to ‘protect’ their culture, so other deaf get access to it, and these other deaf unfortunately, will have their own ideas of going about things.
    Deaf culture versus hearing is a lot easier, than deaf culture versus OTHER deaf people and e.g. CI/BAHA implantees, lip-readers, etc. Human rights laws are being stretched to the limit when these sectors collide, that’s the thing with true equal rights, you don’t get it all your own way, nobody does.
    I think as more access happens so the Deaf community gets less and less as people filter out into mainstream, integration could mean the death of deaf culture as you view it now. I think a number already realise this, and hence the inward-thinking on many access things that we see, the artificial barriers to prevent ‘dilution’ of culture, and insistences on being the right ‘sort’ of deaf, which many see as discrimination.

    • Alicia on May 31, 2006 at 8:52 pm
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    My initial comment was about audism and about living as a visual communicator. Who said that audism applies only to ASL/BSL users? The alternatives to ASL/BSL are still visual: reading, cued speech, lipreading, etc. This is what I’m trying to point out – audism happens to a much bigger group of people, including all the senior citizens who get mocked for not being able to hear as well as they used to. No wonder people put off getting hearing aids for so long!
    We also get discriminated against as soon as we utter a single syllable with our deaf accents. As soon as we type the first word of a TTY relay conversation. As soon as we request a mode of communication other than spoken speech.
    Again, I agree that the word “audism” has been abused by some. In fact, just a few weeks ago I got hit by a tirade from a deaf person about how hearing interpreters are oppressing the deaf community. I vehemently disagreed, but she was in such a tizzy that I really couldn’t get a word in edgewise. So I just listened. And tried to understand the true source of her rage.
    The love of my life, whom I soon will be marrying, is hearing. I have many important hearing people in my life. The last thing I want to do is separate myself from them. At the same time, though, I do not need to be treated with disrespect just because I need to do some things differently in life. I’m all for reconciliation but there MUST be respect from both sides.
    It is my belief that the vast majority of hearing people do not realize what they do. I don’t judge them for it, unless they are in a situation where they SHOULD know better (e.g., an educator or other professional working with the deaf). This is why I find the word “audism” to be an useful tool for educating, because it makes the point that the things that happen to us do affect us in a very serious and damaging way. It is NOT a playtime social or frou-frou cultural issue, as many seem to think it is. It runs much deeper than that.
    Please note that I would NEVER say to a hearing person new to deaf issues, “You are an audist”. Instead, I would say in a nonjudgmental manner, this and that situation can be difficult for me as a deaf person because certain assumptions are made about me due to audism. I would then explain why it is audism and how we could work together to address it.

    • MM on June 1, 2006 at 9:03 am
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    Misunderstandings happen, deaf or hearing aren’t immune. I can’t help but feel, there is too quick a response to this, in a negative way, from BOTH sides. I’m deaf and misinterpret some things, I have trained myself to step back and take a breath first, if everyone did this, instead of taking offence immidiately. There would be no need to invent yet another word for someone who could easily have just made a mistake. There was a ‘quiz’ I saw once where, deaf people and hearing people studied 30 different facial expressions, to judge WHAT they thought these people were thinking/feeling, hearing people came out on top, which surprised many, who assumed as deaf are ‘expert’ in visuals. I won’t agree audism is a useful or necessary word, discrim ination covers it adequately, audism seems to me to be a deliberate attempt to target/label hearing people, and those who disagree with other deaf even, I can’t support that. It’s reverse discrimination isn’t it ?

  1. Finally, there’s one word that sums up my life! Audism.
    Yeah, I’d been told all my life that I would never be able to do this or that. I’m a profoundly deaf single mother who freelances as a graphic designer and who dances the Argentine Tango.
    People who meet me tell me I’m so lucky to learn how to speak. How do I begin to explain that learning to speak does not make one hear any better? If I knew sign language, at least I would have been able to have a proper two-way conversation.
    Audism… huh. Good word.

    • Alicia on June 1, 2006 at 5:37 pm
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    If I took offense at every hint of audism, I’d have become a hermit long ago, with an angry snarling dog to guard my house. 🙂
    Seriously though, I don’t see the word audism as a way to target people. It is simply a description of some unfortunate attitudes that are prevalent in our society. We cannot begin to address problems until we can identify and define them.
    Right now, our biggest problem is that people – deaf and hearing both – simply don’t realize how much damage their attitudes are doing to people with hearing loss – all kinds. Disrespect and abuse of our people is still considered acceptable. This is horribly unjust – and while I understand that most of the time it is not intentional, it’s still up to us to speak up. Nobody else will do it for us.
    And having a specific name for this attitude is the first step in acknowledging its existence.
    Caroline, just about every deaf person I know who speaks intelligibly has the same challenges you do. People praise them effusively for speaking oh-so-very-well .. and fail to understand that they still need accomodations in order to have full communication access. That in itself would not be so bad, if it were a simple matter of explaining their need. But unfortunately, those “well-spoken” friends are often made to feel shame when asking for those accomodations. That shame is just absolutely not necessary.

    • MM on June 2, 2006 at 1:17 pm
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    Well, the UK is anti this term, there isn’t a need for another word in our opinion as discrimination adequately covers it, discrimination DOES include attitudes to deaf people as well ! Perhaps it’s a form of ‘inverse snobbery’ a word that means discrimination, but only applies when deaf are discriminated against ? So deaf discrimination is ‘worse’ than any other form ? I thought the Brits were the people obsessed with class issues ! and havingthe right ‘labels’ 🙂

    • Robert Arcuri on October 4, 2013 at 7:01 am
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    I am an ASL student at Daytona State College, and in the short time I’ve been enrolled in the class, I’ve learned so much about the Deaf Culture that I didn’t know. I learned the term audism, for example. I am also a college professor, and while I’ve had deaf and hard of hearing students, I’ve never INTENTIONALLY discriminated against them. I say intentionally because I did harbor certain audistic beliefs born out of total ignorance. Not too long ago I would have said that Deaf people are more of a risk behind the wheel of a car. I would have used the term “disabled” or “hearing impaired” when making reference to members of the Deaf Community.

    I know for a fact that when I was growing up, the term, “deaf and dumb” was as common a term as “Indian” and I was guilty of using the term. The fact of the matter is that Deaf people are as safe drivers as hearing drivers. On February 1, 2013 “The United States Department of Transportation (DOT) announced today, after decades of prohibition, that deaf drivers can operate commercial motor vehicles such as large trucks.”( For years now we have become more aware of people with disabilities…handicapped accessible has become commonplace. But in the Deaf Community, terms such as disabled, handicapped, hearing impaired implies that they are broken and can be fixed. Members of the Deaf Culture see nothing broken about being Deaf.

    As for deaf and dumb, the word dumb indicated mute, or unable to speak. Another myth. Deaf people can speak, many just choose not to when they can communicate through signing. Many deaf people are very audible because they perhaps went deaf after learning how to speak and still retain the ability to make the sounds they learned when they were hearing. Others have been born deaf and cannot hear the sounds of spoken speech. Mouth certain words, do you hear the sounds? No.

    I am so grateful for this class and for the wonderful instructor we have. I’m loving attending the Deaf events and mingling with the Deaf Culture because they are a lot more accepting of us, then we are of them, unfortunately. I can’t wait to take ASL 2, 3 and 4 so I can become a proficient signer. I am also doing my ASL 1 research paper on AUDISM, which I so want more people to become aware of. Maybe then when you Google “AUDISM” you’ll get AUDISM and not Autism, nudism and a host of other “isms.”

      • on October 4, 2013 at 2:43 pm
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      Robert, thanks for being candid in sharing your experience. I wish more folks were as enlightened as you are. I speak and don’t use ASL, yet lots of folks (after they hear me talk) would start signing. I know they mean well and they’re trying to show they know ASL, so we could communicate that way if that was my preferred method. Society is learning, but it still has a way to go.

    • Caroline on July 24, 2014 at 1:17 am
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    Is it fair to say that if audism was used in court to build a case for sole custody without any visitation is it going to be hard to fight??

    How prejudicial is the court system… Are there any case studies that you know of.. After all forearmed is forewarned.

    An example…. Hearing mother… Deaf father… Marriage collapse. Things get bitter… Mother then punishes the father by concocting a case purely on the basis of the children now being “in danger” as their dad cannot hear.. (When hearing aids are not worn.) would this have ANY merit???

      • on July 24, 2014 at 2:09 pm
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      Oh my goodness … I would hope no such thing would ever happen. But I’m sure it has. It’d be interesting to know how this has been handled.

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