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Audism is the notion that one is superior based on one's ability to hear or to behave in the manner of one who hears, or that life without hearing is futile and miserable, or an attitude based on pathological thinking which results in a negative stigma toward anyone who does not hear. Tom L. Humphries coined the term in his doctoral dissertation in 1977, but it did not start to catch on until Harlan Lane used it in his own writings. Humphries originally applied audism to individual attitudes and practices; whereas Lane broadened the term to include oppression of deaf people.
Audism is a form of ableism, discrimination on the basis of disability. Like racism or sexism, audism assigns labels, judges and limits individuals based on whether they can hear or speak. People who practice audism are called audists. Although it stems predominantly from hearing people, audism can manifest itself in anyone, intentionally or unintentionally.
Types of Audism
Linguistic audism can occur by banning use of commonly used sign languages such as Indian Sign Language, American Sign Language and British Sign Language. Several schools have engaged in such prohibition in America in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and some continue to do so. Audism may also be found in deaf education and in other corporate institutions and groups that deal with deafness. In these cases, it is believed that the educators, administrators, and professionals within these organizations behave in a way that is meant to dominate or marginalize the deaf community.
Dysconscious audism favors what is normal for the hearing community. This type of audism limits deaf culture and pride. This is done by creating an environment in which deaf people must conform to the ways of hearing society. It greatly impacts deaf education in terms of shunning American sign language in favor of communication that is based on the English language and more acceptable to people who are able to hear.
Additionally, deaf people can practice forms of discrimination against members of their own community, based on what they believe is acceptable behavior, use of language, or social association. Dr. Genie Gertz explored examples of such audism in American society in her published dissertation.
Audism can also occur between groups of deaf people, with some who choose not to use a sign language and not to identify with deaf culture considering themselves to be superior to those who do, or vice versa. This is a type of 'dysconscious' audism, a phenomenon which is discussed in an essay by Genie Gertz in Open Your Eyes: Deaf Studies Talking.
Active audism is when a person is knowingly engaging in audist behavior. The person knows the effects of audism, yet still engages in this behavior and has an audist attitude. Passive audism is when a person is engaging in audist behavior, yet does not have knowledge about the Deaf community. Passive audists do not think about how their actions or words concern deaf individuals, hearing individuals, or sign language. Passive audists act due to their lack of knowledge of the Deaf community and its culture.
According to Northeastern University psychology professor Harlan Lane, audism has existed for many centuries, although the recognition of the deaf community as a discrete language-using culture in the 20th century has afforded many more such examples. Audism has been seen as reflecting the attitudes cultures maintain about deaf people, and examples are seen as existing primarily within a medical paradigm, cultural paradigm, and education/linguistic paradigm. Lane has examined the development of deaf-based educational principles in his history of Franco-American deaf relations and educational philosophy.
Phonocentrism, the belief that speech and sounds are inherently superior to written language, has been described as being the root of audism. Phonocentrism has resulted in oralism, a belief that deaf children should be educated using speech and lip-reading, as opposed to sign language.
Activists in the Deaf community claim that audists harm Deaf culture by considering deafness a disability, rather than as a cultural difference. Deaf activists call cochlear implants the audists' tool of cultural genocide that is wiping out the Deaf community. Groups such as Audism Free America regularly protest against medical, social, and educational organizations such as the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, which advocates in support of hearing aids, cochlear implantation, and the use of listening and spoken language for deaf children and adults.
Parents and professionals who teach deaf children how to listen and speak have been labeled audists who "should be tried and convicted of child abuse and neglect--and the Deaf child should be given to Deaf parents for adoption,". As many as 95% of deaf children in the US are born to hearing parents, and research shows that deaf children who listen and speak to communicate, but do not use sign language have better communication outcomes and social well-being than Deaf children who use sign language.
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