[Editor’s note: The article you are about to read first appeared in Dailykos.com on 12/08/10. The thread referred to in the first sentence is taken from a discussion that followed a different article. Reviewing this may be helpful in establishing context.]
Judging from this thread, not many people are aware about how their comments can offend and hurt those who are deaf and hard of hearing, and these comments are a prime example of audism. I do not expect people to agree with me, but I am offering this as a primer on audism in the hopes that people will understand why making audistic comments against deaf commentators is wrong here.
Audism is a form of discrimination practiced against those who are deaf and hard of hearing. It is akin to racism in that it prevents deaf and hard of hearing people from being hired, considered for jobs, pay increases, and socioeconomic advancement. History is rife with examples of audism against deaf people. It also is a form of prejudice in attitudes taken towards deaf people. It exists within the deaf community, where one deaf person thinks he or she is better than the other deaf person based on the ability to hear and speak, and vice versa.
I have written earlier about facing job discrimination, bigotry, and witnessing ignorant remarks made about my deafness from people who weren’t aware that I could understand them. This thread was not the first time, and neither shall it be the last time that I face audistic remarks like that. This is something that I face in my life on a daily basis from both people who are well-intentioned and not so well-intentioned in their attitudes and treatment towards me.
One sort of a common benign audism that deaf people face comes in the form of patronization where we are spoken to like we are mentally deficient, in a very extremely slow, exaggerated tone, and treated as if we are children, unable to take care of ourselves. We’ve gotten very silly questions like, “Can you drive?,” “I thought all deaf people only used ASL,” “Why didn’t you listen to me? You have a cochlear implant/hearing aid, so you should be able to hear what I told you,” and so on into ad infinitum.
We also have gotten questions about our mental ability such as the ability to comprehend written and spoken language. These forms of questions are very insulting because of the underlying assumptions about that deaf person, and is not the benign form of audism which I have discussed above. No two deaf people are alike. A strong ASL Deaf adult should not be considered mentally deficient because he or she prefers to communicate in ASL only, and there are many wonderful ASL Deaf bloggers that write fluently in English and sign in ASL as well via vblogs. Even those who cannot write fluently in English, should not be considered mentally deficient since English is basically a second language for that Deaf person, and grammar or syntax should not be a measure of intelligence or comprehension.
Oftentimes the way a Deaf person writes in English is how the Deaf person signs. I have met many Deaf individuals that write like this, and can hold incredible discussions with me about deaf culture, the need for captioning, discrimination, and audism. And the same goes for an oral deaf person, who can read very fast—she should not be asked if she is mentally deficient in the area of reading comprehension. This is a false stereotype which has harmed those in the deaf community, and has been a large part of job discrimination against those who are deaf and hard-of-hearing.
Here are examples of audism that deaf people like me have faced when it comes to finding jobs:
Deaf Teacher Suspended Due To Discrimination
There are more stories like this one about everyday discrimination and you can see an example like this:
It IS hard. Usually all we need is a chance and then we prove to be excellent workers. I know of one elementary school principle who was given a hard time when he wanted to hire a deaf teacher. Parents threw a fit, “how will she be able to communicate?” She signed, lip-read, and spoke very well. Parents were trying to pull their kids out of her class. Two years later, parents are requesting that their children are put INTO her class- she has the highest test scores, the best behaved kids, and the most interesting stories. The only thing parents sometimes dont like is when the kids pick up ASL and start signing behind their backs!
The worst part is when this discrimination comes from the very people who should know better. I worked at an Independent Living Center once and did so well I was promoted immediately. Problem was they never trained me or even told me what all my job duties were. So naturally I failed to complete every job duty since I didnt know I was supposed to do it. After I left, they were telling people that they had to let me go because of MY communication difficulties!
However, I think for the most part it is not intentional discrimination as much as ignorance. People are afraid of what they dont know. Unfortunately we have to prove ourselves before their minds will change.
Indeed, we deaf people do have to fight ignorance on a constant basis, much of it well-intentioned, and not so well-intentioned. I’ve written about my personal experiences as an deaf oral woman here.
I have struggled with, overcome, felt empowered, disempowered, challenged, enjoyed, and lived my deafness in all these years of my life. This is who I am, and I hope you understand how pernicious discrimination in the form of audism can be. When I tell you that a comment or a question about my deafness is offensive, don’t accuse me of playing the “deaf card” or attempt to explain away your insulting comment.
Please listen, and understand why such comments and statements are wrong.