I have always loved the discovery of new words and ideas. I am also forever curious about the genesis of words and how they came into popular being in a culture. I learned two new words last week that are interrelated: “Audists” and “Audism” and the concept of those words has been around since 1977 and used in print in a scholarly book in 1992. “Audists” are Deaf or Hearing people who think they are superior to others with lesser hearing and that process of a climbing supremacy on the backs of the audibly disabled is called “Audism.” Here are some examples of Audism in action:
- Poor English skills are because the Deaf cannot hear and because the Deaf’s first language is American Sign Language
- Deaf children look like animals when they sign with their hands
- Deaf people shuffle as they walk because they have an inner ear imbalance that causes insecurity in movement
- The Deaf should not be allowed to drive because they cannot hear emergency sirens or other audible warnings
- The Deaf are broken and need to be fixed medically with Cochlear Implants or Hearing Aids
- Only Deaf people who learn to voice English without a “Deaf accent” will find successful employment
Even though those Audist and Audism are not yet printed in a standard dictionary they have power and purchase in a certain narrow context in Deaf Culture that I find quite interesting.
Here is how Gallaudet University frames the history of the use of “Audism” in print:
The first appearance of the term audism in print seems to have been by Harlan Lane in 1992. However, Lane credits the invention of the term to Tom Humphries’ unpublished 1977 doctoral dissertation (Humphries 1977). After Humphries coined the term audism, it laid dormant until Lane revived its use 15 years later.
It is increasingly catching on, though not yet in regular dictionaries of the English language. Humphries originally applied audism to individual attitudes and practices, but Lane and others have broadened its scope to include institutional and group attitudes, practices, and oppression of deaf persons.
Gallaudet goes on to mark the use of “Audism” in other scholarly texts:
— 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:
The following image celebrates “Deaf Pride”
— the opposite of Audists and their Audism — because the symbol indicates you don’t need an ear that hears to live a full and delicious life:
Let’s hope one day soon Merriam-Webster and other standard dictionaries will include a line or two defining Audists and Audism as terms in current usage because identifying discrimination with a precise term instead of generic label gives the cause of equality greater standing against those who choose to repress others with opposite meanings that purposefully misdescribe natural being.