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Susan F. Crist
The 2005 Scottish film, “Dear Frankie,” (Auerbach and Woods, 2005), is a film about a nine year old deaf boy, Frankie. Frankie lives with his single mother and grandmother, both hearing. Frankie is a happy child and obviously does not consider himself “handicapped.” At one point in the film, Lizzie, Frankie’s mum, implores Frankie to wear his hearing aid. Frankie does not like to wear the hearing aid, but does so to placate his mother. Frankie is happy using sign language and can lip read. This film industry portrayal is just one way the hearing world attempts to impose its values and culture on the Deaf Communit y. This attitude of feeling hearing people are “normal” and non-hearing people are “not normal” is audism.
Audism is discriminating against people who are deaf. Audism includes stereotyping non-hearing people. Tom Humphries coined the term in his unpublished work, “The Making of a Word.” (Humphries, 1975). Audism is from the Latin word “audire” which means, “to hear.” Although the word, “audism,” does not appear in many dictionaries, Humphries stated the definition should be:
Audism- (o diz m) n. the notion that one is superior based on
one’s ability to hear or behave in the manner of one who hears. (Humphries, 1975).
Many others in the Deaf Community have expanded the definition to a broader notion of prejudicial or biased acts, such as discriminating against people who are non-hearing in employment, in education and in society at large. At the heart of the issue is the hearing world’s perception of deafness as a disability. Many people, some deaf included, think of a loss of hearing from a medical point of view. They view deafness as a defective trait – a birth defect or an accident of injury or illness.
One place where institutional bias and discrimination occur regularly is in our K-12 education system. It is not culturally sensitive to deaf culture. Within the education realm, the student who is deaf is expected to conform to the hearing world. Education strategies in our K-12 system are housed within the Special Education departments. The Individual Education Plan or I.E.P., the educational strategy for a special education pupil, lists deafness as a primary disability. Another area of concern is tests which are not normed for the student who is non-hearing. Tests can very biased in favor of the hearing person. Questions with references to concepts from the hearing world or with reliance on English expressions are biased against the test-taker who is deaf. (Martin, 2001). Both examples are clearly institutional bias against the non-hearing student. The Deaf Community as a whole is left out of both decision-making and policy-making for the deaf student allowing for the same prejudicial strategies to be maintained.
The perspective from the Deaf Community is completely the opposite. The Deaf Community considers deafness a privilege and a positive attribute, not something to be repaired or changed. A whole culture has evolved. The Deaf Community has its own language, American Sign Language. It has a strong sense of identity. (Lawrence, 2007). The community wants and needs their culture recognized and respected. In a hearing world’s language, the Deaf Community’s voice needs to be heard and respected. Members of the community need to be making decisions about and for their own people rather than those decisions being made by hearing people without cultural competence of deaf culture. To this end deaf activists would like to see the Deaf Community protected as a minority to ensure protections in the law which other minorities enjoy. (Lawrence, 2007 and Wikipedia, 2006).
The United States is becoming more and more diverse as a population. Assimilation to a dominant model, or in the case of deaf culture, of assimilating to the hearing world, does not provide the best world for those who are deaf. Tolerance for and an understanding of all ethnic and cultural groups, including the Deaf Community and deaf culture, means quality of life and equality for all citizens.
Audism. (2006). Audism.org. Retrieved April 16, 2007 from <http://www.audism.org/0/Information/audism.html#>.
Audism. (2007). Wikipedia.org. Retrieved April 16, 2007 from <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Audism>.
Berke, Jamie. (2006). I am better than you. Deaf Culture-Audism. About.com. Retrieved April 16, 2007 from <http://deafness.about.com/cs/deafculture/a/audism.htm>.
Auerbach, Shona (Director) and Wood, Caroline (Producer). (2005). Dear frankie [Motion Picture]. Scotland. Miramax Films
Frequently Asked Questions: Audism. Library deaf related resources. Gallaudet University. (Retrieved April 14, 2007 from < http://library.gallaudet.edu/dr/faq-audism.html>.
Humphries, Tom. (1975). The making of a word: audism. CLC2001. Gallaudet University. Retrieved April 14, 2007 from <http://gradschool.gallaudet.edu/clc2002/Readings/audism.PDF>.
Ketcham, Eric. (2006). Audism. The Sandbox. Retrieved April 14, 2007 from <http://www.raa-deaf.org/sandbox1.html>.
Lawrence, Janay. (2007). Ethnic minorities in america: asian, african-american, hispanic and deaf?. Department of Social Science Minority Studies Paper. Del Mar College. Retrieved April 14. 2007 from <http://www.delmar.edu/socsci/rlong/creation/janay.html>.