What is Audism?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Is a person better because he or she can hear? Are those with hearing disabilities somehow less skilled, less able, or less gifted than those who can hear? These would be the contentions of an audist, a person who discriminates against the hearing impaired in either subtle or overt ways.

Some people prefer to be referred to as "deaf," while others prefer the term "hard of hearing."
Some people prefer to be referred to as "deaf," while others prefer the term "hard of hearing."

The term audism was first used by Tom Humphries in the 1970s, and has become more greatly used again since the 1990s. It can mean placing negative stereotypes on the deaf due to their non-hearing status. It would be a mistake to assume this attitude as arising purely from the hearing community. That’s simply not true. Some people who practice audism are deaf or work with the deaf community.

In particular, this charge may be levied on people who have any power over the deaf. They retain that power by limiting the power of deaf people and by determining what they should learn, do, study or know. Even parents of deaf kids could potentially be audists if they view their children as limited by non verbal speaking or not hearing and try to compensate for this by making them learn to read lips, to speak aloud, or other things that aren’t exactly necessary and that may steal from the unique experience of the deaf.

Another way in which audism might be expressed is through judging capability based on non-hearing. This is akin to judging capability based on possessing female genitals, or a certain skin shade or religious preference. When the principal judgment hinges on hearing ability, it is an audist judgment: a type of hate and ignorance that may enrage the many different people who cannot hear.

It’s very clear though that it might be hard not to be audist without some conscious reflection. Many people are motivated to it out of what they believe to be kindness and pity, without thinking that pitying someone for non-hearing makes that person less of a full and complete person with the capacity for numerous gifts and skills. Those who would be so motivated must understand that when pity denigrates personhood, it may cause irreparable harm.

Other acts of audism are much more overt. The assumption a non-hearing person lacks in intelligence because they do not speak vocally may suggest more deliberate discrimination. Banning the non-hearing person from certain types of work could definitely be construed as violating regulations built for the protection of people with disabilities. Often the attitudes of audism are based on ignorance and stereotype that have no reflection in reality.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


Lines like "Are those with hearing disabilities..." and "a person who discriminates against the hearing impaired.." are audist remarks. Deaf and hard of hearing are not "impaired" or "disabled." Just a little ironic if you ask me.

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