|Audism: What's That?|
I've been wanting to write a post about Audism for some time now. I keep on hitting wall while writing a post like this. I find that it is difficult to convey what Audism is without making a particular group look bad when it is not my intention to do so, or making it more complicated than it should be. What if I make this post uninteresting or boring? Then it hit me. I might as well just type it out, and see how it goes....
I am sure that most of you know what "isms" is all about. If you are not familiar what "isms" is then think of terms such like sexism, racism, ageism, and so on. Audism is a recent addition to the list. Let me define what that word mean very quickly:
AUDISM: The mentality that being able to hear and speak is better is necessarily better and leads to a higher quality of life. This is mostly done by hearing people....yet it is also found among Deaf and HOH (Hard of Hearing) people as well! (Citation by http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Audism)
What kind of oppressive experiences do we Deaf/HOH people go through that would be considered to be Audism? The most common experiences are:
1. You are a Deaf or HOH person sitting in a group with hearing people whether it is your family or friends. They are talking and you're having a difficult time keeping up. You tap on the shoulder of a person next to you, who is able to sign, and ask him/her what is happening. The person turns to you and says, oh, I will tell you later or don't worry, they are being dumb. It's nothing important or They are laughing at a joke, that's it.
2. CAN. YOU. READ. MY. LIPS? (Now don't confuse this with a sincere question that is often asked by hearing people for their curiosity. I am talking about a person going up in my face and bluntly saying this without expecting that there are alternatives of communication).
3. You must be so smart because you speak so well for a Deaf/HOH person!
4. You're Deaf and Dumb? (This is more common among older generations because the term "dumb" refers to the word, mute....with an underlying meaning that a mute person must be stupid).
5. That Deaf/HOH person has a weird accent to his/her voice. She/He must not be very smart.
6. Only Deaf/HOH people who have perfect English, and ability to speak well will find jobs.
7. The only way Deaf/HOH people can be successful is IF they have Cochelar Implants or hearing aids.
8. That Deaf person is not really intelligent because he/she doesn't understand English. I feel sorry for him/her.
9. Oh stop bothering me/waving a Deaf person off after the Deaf person asks for information of what is going on.
10. Stop signing so big or do not sign or slapping the hands of Deaf person if he/she attempts to sign.
Those are only a few examples. Is it only hearing folks that does this? No. You do find it among Deaf people. It can be a Deaf person, who is oral (meaning can speak and have hearing aids), or a Deaf person who is fully immersed with a hearing culture without accepting his/her Deaf identity. I admit that I have behaved in this way when I was growing up.
I didn't know any better. I was merely using my survival skills in the hearing world. I adopted hearing people's attitude toward Deaf culture. I have had held beliefs that the majority of Deaf people were not educated, and that my Deaf identity was something to be ashamed of.
It was a lot of hidden messages that I received while growing up. I was told not to sign too "big" or "dramatically" in the public because it was inappropriate and looked odd to the hearing people who did not understand Deaf culture. I was told not to use too much of facial expressions because it made me look silly. I was not allowed to use my voice to make "sounds" because I was unable to speak. I became very self-conscious of any noises that came out of my mouth. When my Deaf friends made exclamation sounds such like OH, AH, or squealing in excitement; I actually cringed at them, and thought wow, they really did look stupid. It was VERY audist on my part.
It took me years before I realized that some of my beliefs and attitudes was pointing to Audism, and finally understanding why I got so frustrated in social settings because of Audism occurrences. I was not really imagining stuff or going crazy. I was experiencing oppression both unintentionally and intentionally. The ones that was intentional made it easier for me to see the discrimination, however, the subtle or unintentional discrimination was harder for me to pick on. I felt it was always my fault somehow. When it hit me that it was definitely not my fault when I experienced oppression, I felt so much better, and finally found the name of it. Audism. At the same time, it also hit me that I was also being an Audist! Crap. It became a life-defining experience for me.
I learned so much more about Audism when I went to Gallaudet University in Washington DC. I began to weed out between true incident of Audism and just a person being dramatic or overreacting to a simple situation.
I remember there was a situation on my dorm floor during my first semester at Gallaudet. There was a giant pin-up board in our hallway about Audism. Apparently, that our Residential Assistant felt that, since that floor was mainly composed of hearing women, the residents were being Audists because they were talking on their cellphones in the hallway.
Did I find that to be Audist of them?
Because I was doing the same thing. I was texting, checking my emails or typing a quick email on my Blackberry. If I saw someone then I definitely said hello then continued my way. How that was different from a hearing student talking on her cellphone to her long-distance boyfriend/girlfriend or family members?
Now....when Stu and I first started dating; Stu used to pick up his cell in middle of our conversation at a restaurant and started talking on the phone in front of me.
Was that Audist of him?
Because I had no idea who he was talking to or why he was on the phone. If I was a hearing person then I would have known who he was talking to or what topic he was talking about because I had an ability to "overhear" the chat. ***Fortunately, Stu stopped doing that after we had a serious discussion about why it was inappropriate to do in front of a Deaf person. He ended up telling me quickly who was calling him and excused himself for a few minutes after that incident**
To be carrying on a conversation like that in front of a Deaf person is a big NO-NO especially if you are out in a social setting with a Deaf person. To answer the cell is fine. To excuse yourself from the conversation for a few minutes is fine. To chat away on the phone in front of a Deaf person is definitely not cool. It doesn't have to be about phone. If you are with other hearing person and you are not signing what you are talking about while you are with a Deaf person is also pretty rude.
This post is becoming longer than I expected! To summarize this post, to ask questions about a Deaf person's life because you are curious doesn't mean you are an Audist, to be sincerely curious is okay, and mistakes does happen. If a mistake does occur and the Deaf person addresses you about that mistake then just apologize and learn from it. A lot of Deaf people are pretty cool and let it go because we understand that hearing people are not exposed to a lot of Deaf people/Deaf culture. If you do happen to run into a grouchy Deaf person then don't take it personal--he/she is probably having a bad day.
It is a learning experience for everybody!
I hope you learned something new from this post today. :)