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Audism   Tags: deaf, faq, research guide  

Last Updated: Mar 2, 2017 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

What is Audism? Print Page

What Is Audism: Introduction

Audism (from the Latin audire, to hear, and -ism, a system of practice, behavior, belief, or attitude) has been variously defined as:

"The notion that one is superior based on one's ability to hear or to behave in the manner of one who hears." Tom Humphries, Communicating across cultures (deaf-hearing) and language learning. (Doctoral dissertation. Cincinnati, OH: Union Institute and University,1977), p.12. If you are off campus, you will need to log on to access this dissertation.

"The belief that life without hearing is futile and miserable, that hearing loss is a tragedy and the "scour-age 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." Fred Pelka, The ABC-CLIO companion to the disability rights movement (Santa Barbara, Calif: ABC-CLIO, 1997), p.33.

"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." Janice Humphrey and Bob J. Alcorn, So you want to be an interpreter?: an introduction to sign language interpreting (Amarillo, TX: H&H Publishers, 1995), p.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." Harlan Lane, The mask of benevolence: disabling the deaf community (New York: Knopf, 1992), p.43.

Persons who practice audism are called audists.  Audists may be hearing or deaf.

The term audism was coined by Tom Humphries in Communicating across cultures (deaf-hearing) and language learning (Doctoral dissertation. Cincinnati, OH: Union Institute and University,1977) . If you are off campus, you will need to log on to access this dissertation.  The term lay 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.

The first half of Harlan Lane's book, The mask of benevolence: disabling the deaf community, is the most extensive published survey and discussion of audism so far.


Prepared by Tom Harrington
Reference and Instruction Librarian
October, 2002

Revised by Laura Jacobi
Manager, Library Instruction and Reference Services
April, 2009

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