When Addressing Audism Becomes Audism Itself

Posted on 28 December 2006. Filed under: Audism |

First, let me state clearly, for the record, that I take the general concern of audism seriously. I think ASL signing, non-speaking Deaf people do tend to encounter more prejudice than do deaf/Deaf people who can speak at least somewhat well, who have usable lipreading skills, and strong English. To some extent this occurs even at Gallaudet in that some DPS staff, upon whom students depend for their safety, do not have strong enough ASL skills (as opposed to sim com skills) to communicate competently with nonIspeaking ASL users.

I also believe audism can go in the other direction: people who are hard of hearing, or who have and use cochlear implants, or who grew up oral (or even hearing), or who might have strong sim com skills but not so great ASL skills, often face their own problems with prejudice from Deaf ASL users who grew up in the Deaf community.

So: audism must be confronted and uprooted where it exists. But when does confronting what one considers “audism” cross over the line from legitimate action against bona fide acts of genuinely oppressive prejudice to the other, equally ugly side of audism? That is to say, can the term “audism,” even if very legitimate in a great many contexts, be abused in a way that it starts to reinforce prejudice against people who, according to some narrow definitions, “aren’t deaf enough”?

Writer Shane Feldman recently made a blog post, entitled “Abusing Audism,” that presents his own perspectives on these issues over at http://www.deafde.com/blog/shane-feldman/2006-12-28/abusing-audism/. What do YOU think?

I’m hoping to obtain permission from Shane Feldman to post his essay here (I’ve sent him email and am awaiting his permission). But meanwhile, I welcome essay submissions from other people on the different dimensions of audism and your thoughts on when “audism” really is “audism” and when audism might become a slur word used against people who don’t fit the perfect model of a non-speaking, ASL-using Deaf of Deaf from Deaf schools.

Essays can be submitted to me at ashettle (at) patriot.net. Please check out the guidelines for guest bloggers (see links in the right hand column on this page). In addition to audism essays, I’m also interested in essays on racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and other “isms” at Gallaudet and in the deaf community generally. I also welcome essays on healing and reunifying the wider Gallaudet community in the aftermath of the protests.


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16 Responses to “When Addressing Audism Becomes Audism Itself”

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I just happened to walk past the group of Gallaudet students playing the Trivial Pursuit game during my freshman year. The Trivial Pursuit game was a brand-new kind of table game for everyone to play, especially group. I asked the group if I could join them to play the game. They said “Sure thing!”. This group played the game for hours and almost done with it, but willing to let me jump in. I won the game in appx. 20 minutes. The group of those students asked me where I graduated from. I said “WV School for the Deaf in Romney, WV)”. They said ‘Couldn’t be possible!” “Can’t be!!!” I was perplexed and asked why. The group of students were mainstream school graduates. I simply told them that I was a product of residential school of the deaf. I clearly begun seen the real prejudices within student products of mainstream and oral schools.

Many deaf and hard of hearing graduates from mainstream or oral school always often think of themselves more superior to any culturally deaf from residential school of the deaf. How sad!

We ought not to judge anyone deaf based on their educational background, ex. mainstream or residential or oral school. Or our language usage or communication mode as everyone deaf have to respect and embrace each other.

I realized more and more about the large numbers of deaf graduates from mainstream or oral schools tend to have real emotional problems as compared to the well-adjusted deaf individuals from residential schools. That is called the social intelligence which Jane Fernandes and other deaf graduates of mainstream or oral schools usually lack.

I always treat anyone deaf equally regardless of their social, educational and cultural backgrounds.

Robert L. Mason (RLM)

I noticed that pattern too, RLM. The oppressed will oppress their own peers. Sad cycle. Deafhood also tries to explain to do away with that cycle by identifying ourselves as one collective group – deaf, no matter what you are from.

crab theory, oppressing peers, and such:

[…Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of ASL;
It is trampling out the oralists, and Acquired deaf as well;
It is unloosening the lightning on all the Audists in hell;
Our sign is marching on….]

why can’t we support natural sign languages (ASL, BSL, LSF, etc.) and deaf people’s access to those languages, without oppressing other deaf people?

Back then (I dont know if this still holds true or not) but when i was growing up, i was awlays told by hearing people that deaf institutions were not good schools. I even visited on on deaf school, the kids were throwing fish sticks at each other and that was not tolerated in public schools. So in my narrow vision, it seemed that disciplone anso that exaplains why some deafies get the idea about deaf schools is by hearing people who are misinformed about it. Also its considered as throwaway schools or the last pit stop when all education efforts have failed, this is very common among other disabled groups. So this is where the idea came from.d low edcuatoon was preveleant at deaf instituoions.

(Hi Andrea ;^)

I already read Shane’s excellent discussion about audism being so overgeneralized and I was going to post something there but now I see good discussion here too. I do not want to just chime in or repeat anything.

One thing we guys need to look at.., that is what I mentioned in the Deaf Academics forum last May during the time of protest. I said that we have developed a real terrible habit of oppressing each others because of…system that has been keeping a huge lid on us all. I explained that if we had deaf studies and a good clear bilingual model in our deaf pedalogy to start with, from k-1 up to k-12, it would have made an enormous difference. Second, we have been raised in pretty paternalistic environment that we internalized oppression and project it on others.

I am really glad to see this intellectual dialogue gets going now, we’ll work out and this will take time.

Maybe from here, let’s state one thing each of us is doing (not just talking) something to change this? Like how?

For me, I am working with other two deaf ASL teachers to set up a website for deaf and hoh signers to develop fluency in signing and knowledge about ASL as a language. We want to offer this to three groups, those who have relatively little exposure, those who already have, and those who are fluent but want to know more. This is something for our 2007 to elimination oppression right away!

RLM, thanks for sharing your story. It’s a good (though sad) example of audism within the Deaf/deaf community.

I’d like to gently point out, though, that your assumption that “large numbers” of deaf people from mainstreamed or oral backgrounds necessarily have more psychological problems is itself a stereotypical remark. There MIGHT be some truth in it — in my own case, for example, I think PART of my problems with shyness may be rooted in growing up in a mainstream environment. Then again, my hearing sister also is shy–shyness is generally rooted in a combination of genetic factors and environmental factors. (That is, one or the other by itself isn’t enough to produce shyness. Say, if your genes tilt toward shyness, then the right environmental influences can help you override that to at least a limited extent. Or if your genes tilt toward high socialbility, other environmental influences can suppress that tendency and make you more inhibited. Then again, if your genes already tilt toward shyness, certain environmental influences can bring out and reinforce that underlying tendency.) So my “emotional problem” (if you care to label shyness that) can’t all be attributed to growing up in a mainstreamed environment.

I think all of us make certain assumptions — such as, “Deaf schools typically have low-quality education, therefore deaf people from deaf schools will be basically illiterate and ignorant” … or, “Deaf people typically find a mainstream setting to be isolating and usually don’t speak or lipread well enough to have a full social life with oralism alone, therefore they end up with more emotional problems” … or, fill in your assumption here. Then we filter the way we see the world based on those assumptions. So, we only notice evidence that supports our existing world view and beliefs and subconsciously overlook or actually forget evidence that seems to conflict with that world view. At least some research seems to support this idea (though I’m afraid I don’t recall precise references right now). It’s a natural part of how we learn about the way the world works: it’s easier to process, remember, and understand information that is consistent with what we already know (or THINK we know!) than it is to process information that forces us to re-evaluate our most basic assumptions. If we truly were “assumption free” then we would have a great deal of trouble learning ANY new information at all. Assumptions help us learn. And a great deal of the information we learn through building upon underlying assumptions is valuable, helpful information. (For example, most of us, I hope, operate on the assumption that “gravity works.” 🙂 With this assumption in place, it becomes a little easier to learn the new information that, “It would not be a good idea for me to let go of this very fragile, very expensive vase while holding it three feet above the ground” 🙂 ) The trouble is, underlying assumptions do also have the disadvantage that they help us “learn” information that simply isn’t true. For example, if you were to be suddenly transported to outerspace (assume life support equipment) without any prior training or other preparation. You would probably initially move and behave as if gravity still works–because that assumption has been drilled into your subconscious since birth. You might consequentally have more trouble accomplishing your ordinary activities in a gravity-free environment–not just because you’re “not used to it” but also because you have to retrain your brain with an entirely new set of assumptions.

So what I’m getting at here is: To what extent do you think the “emotional problems” you see among mainstreamed or oral students are necessarily actually there, and to what extent might you be reading emotional problems into behaviors that might not be rooted in emotional problems at all? And, for emotional problems that do exist: how many are necessarily caused by being in a mainstreamed or oral environment, and how many would have been there anyway for reasons that had nothing to do with their educational background? Are you really seeing a pattern here, or are you just remembering the examples that meet your assumptions and forgetting about individuals who conflict with your assumptions? Or, could the pattern be there–but maybe not as strong as you think? For instance, maybe you THINK that about 80 percent of the mainstreamed or oral deaf people you have met have had “emotional problems and only 20 percent of deaf from deaf schools have had the same issues. But suppose that you interpret the behaviors you see in such a way that leads you to “over label” 10 percent (I’m just making up numbers here, don’t take them too seriously or too literally) of the mainstreamed/oral deaf students as having “emotional problems” when they don’t, and “under label” 10 percent of deaf from deaf schools as being emotionally healthy when maybe they aren’t. Then on top of that, you simply forget many of the people who seem to conflict your assumptions altogether. So maybe you’re actually only seeing 50 percent of deaf from mainstreamed/oral environment with emotional problems compared to 40 percent of deaf from deaf schools. (Again: I’m just inventing these numbers for the sake of argument, they’re not meant to be taken at all seriously.)

I’m not saying that there is no truth to this observation. Sometimes stereotypes are actually based PARTLY on actual patterns from real life. For example, people sometimes stereotype gay men as being “effeminate.” I hope that, of course, most of the people reading this blog know by now that this stereotype is generally not true. There are many effeminate men who are not gay. And there are also many gay men who are very masculine and who participate in very stereotypically “male” occupations such as soldier, policement, and even professional football (though men in these professions are far less likely to “come out of the closet”). HOWEVER, although the “effeminate gay man” is generally a false stereotype, it does have some limited basis in the truth: anyone in the gay community do know at least a few gay men who do fit the stereotype to a “t.”

And I suspect it’s somewhat similar in the deaf community. Both these stereotypes might well have some limited basis in the truth. But even if that might be the case, we obviously should all be careful to examine the assumptions we make for subconscious bias and question what “facts” or “observations” we actually know, and what we merely THINK we know or THINK we have observed.

Surely logic suggest that if terms are divisive and abused, then we should drop them ? I’m fed up with deafhood and audism and I feel sure most deaf are too… we don’t NEED these terms to be what we are, they’re a crutch for those who don’t know who THEY are.

MM, Shane’s blog has several respondents and also obviously here in this blog that clearly show how terms are raising our consciousness, there is no way of naysaying these terms and actual experiences. If you are fed up, you know, there is always a door.

That would be running away, the reason most do is because of the aggro as it is, and develop apathy which is a lot worse. Deafism,Deafhood, Audism has America a plague of isms or something ? We don’t need another word for discrimination, neither do we need another word to describe you are deaf or not or signing or not, what does it achieve ? What IS the American obsession with terms ? Some sort of in-house job creation scheme or something ? to keep ‘mainstream’ on the back foot ? The bottom line is deafness, which is the basis of EVERYTHING, is like a castle built on sand.

When the access, progress, and alleviation tides come in, it is liable to collapse very quickly. Should we not be preparing future generations now, of a life outside deafness ? Not building the barriers ever higher ? 75% of HI and deaf people would want to hear tomorrow, I can’t see how these terms are of any use… or outside America gain any credbility.

The UK deaf did NOT know what audism was in September 2006, and when it was described on their BBC deaf program, said, who needs it… ? Deafhood was mooted via the RAD in the UK, who were attacked for describing non-signing and lip-reading deaf as ‘medical models’ and refused input from them.

Any wonder we can’t be bothered ? If you have confidence in what you are and in yourself, you don’t need this….

If I could add another two statistics re online de=bates and coverage.

Deafhood covered 32,000 times by Americans
643 by the UK.

Audism covered 41,000 times by Americans
1,1000 by UK.

The obsession speaks for itself.

MM, you do not really understand anything at all. I will not keep on arguing because several respondents already said how terms are helpful with defining our cultural behavior and how terms continue to reconfigure and evolve..very clearly. You are missing the entire point.

At the moment I’m unable to access the linked article.

But I’d like to comment that the mentality already exists. There’s even a term used by some Deaf on other Deaf people they feel aren’t “Deaf enough”: Hearie or Hearie-minded. The sign is same as heariing at the lips except as a slur, the sign is used on the forehead. Sadly, I absolutely can see some abusing the term Audism by using it as a slur against other Deaf people.. it’s that “oppressed lid” effect someone mentioned in the comments.

It’s also the “two sides”(Deaf schooled & mainstreamed) misunderstanding and being ignorant of each other. As a mainstreamed kid, I never knew Deaf schools existed until I hit high school, and that was only because a few of our classmates transferred to a Deaf school instead of going on to a mainstreamed high school.

I was very shocked at the concept of a Deaf school. I got curious and asked “teh adults” and they only offered negative responses about Deaf school’s academic qualities & “social maturity”. Unfortunately like a commenter above, my in person experiences with Deaf school students were consistently very negative- their social and public behavior were horrible(a bunch of them actually started throwing rocks and dirt at a hearing woman when she complained they were letting other kids cut into the line in front of her at an amusement park. That lady had a very young kid with her..). I know any high schoolers are bound to behave badly sometimes but geeze, it just seemed the Deaf school kids were consisently worse and took it to further extremes. And when I saw their school materials, it reinforced the negative information I was fed.. they were the same materials I had seen at *elementary and jr. high* school.. That was embarassing.

In other words, just remember that a lot of mainstreamed Deaf most likely were given very negative information about Deaf schools for most of their lives, this can get ingrained and difficult to change. I fortunately have learned a lot since then and now understand the issue just isn’t that simple at all. Honestly, I would have MUCH preferred to grow up attending a Deaf school.. but one with high academic quality.

I wasn’t arguing Ann Marie I was asking why American deaf differ so much with us over aspects of ‘deaf terminology’. The only point I am missing is in that no-one has yet answered the question, assumed I am ignorant, and don’t understand, so OK, enlighten me….. why do you need terms to hide behind ?

If it takes a one terminology word to equate the explanations of reasons, we can achieve our goals to solve problems.

I grew up in the hearing world, can speak very well. I am a very bi-cultural person as I learned ASL after I attended Gallaudet. I have a Deaf wife and two Deaf children.

With my excellent speaking skills, I have argued with many ignorant people about my Deaf children’s education and seems that their ignorance comes from audism mentality.

Before I went to Gallaudet, I had that ignorance mentality too. It takes one to know one.

A person who intends to have a oppressive personality do not like to be labeled as an Audism.

For many years, we have been too nice and passive trying to reason with the ignorant “educators for the Deaf”. And we have just gotten almost nowhere! I believe that these “one word terminology” will wake up the realization in Deaf Edcuation.

Anne Marie,
I support your efforts on working with very young age up to the age of 6 to set up a foundation of learning bilingual, ASL/reading and written English.

Learning ASL inspired me to write a novel book, MindField.
See http://www.egbertpress.com/

Obviously we all need to make our point to the system, I’m unsure confrontation is the way to do it… there are so many differing viewpoints in the deaf world at large, and the tendency to approach this in a singular way, is just making the ‘opposition’ unclear. We are fighting each other… as well as the system, and this will defeat everything else because we need a unity of view to progress, or you will end up with factions of deaf people, isolated by decibel, language and lifestyles too, we’re addressing the system, without, addressing our own disunity. We’re creating a heirachy based on loudest voice, not fair and accessible need and right.

There you are, a point made, and not one mention of deafhood or audism as essential to this.

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