Audism: Occurrences within the Deaf Community

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The term audism surfaced in the early 1970s as a way to explain the discriminatory attitudes of people towards members of the deaf community. While audism is more common within the hearing world, it exists within the deaf community as well. Inside the deaf community, audism occurs when deaf individuals with lessened or nonexistent hearing ability are treated worse by other deaf individuals who may feel more adjusted or adapted to the hearing world. The primary assumption with audism is the belief of increased importance or value for people who blend in better with their hearing counterparts.

The cause of audism can be traced to the disrespect of certain members of the deaf community. “This perception leads to the assumption that deaf bodies are unwanted, inferior, and subject to repair. To the extent that deaf people do not hear and do not speak, they are seen as less intelligent…” (Hauser, O'Hearn, McKee, Steider, & Thew, 2010, p. 490). This belief does not exist exclusively within the hearing world. Within deaf communities, this definition of audism is fairly prevalent.

In addition to the definition of audism, expectations held by certain members within the deaf community towards other deaf people are numerous. “…appears when deaf people actively participate in the oppression of other deaf people by demanding of them the same set of standards, behavior, and values that they demand of hearing people” (Bauman, 2004, p. 240). Theories addressing why these pressures and beliefs come from certain members of the deaf community are varied. One popular idea is the pressure from the hearing world which results in a “trickle-down” pathway of discrimination. Contrary to collective deaf culture, certain deaf people may feel, in other words, pressured due to their own insecurities to oppress members of the deaf community they view as more inferior than themselves (Bauman, 2004, p. 240). Since the standard seen commonly within the hearing world as well as the deaf community gives preference to increased hearing capabilities, the level of discrimination through audism is likely to increase when certain individuals within a deaf community are viewed as farther away from the standard of the hearing world.

Audism, like any other form of discrimination, varies by degree. Two of the most common are encouragement and control. “…people who are deaf must be encouraged (or even forced) to become as much like non-deaf people as possible. The other is to assume control over deaf people, to disempower them…” ("Audism," 2012, par 4). The first occurrence of audism is commonly displayed within the deaf community due to an overall sense of inadequacy felt among certain deaf people. This is another example related to “trickle-down” discrimination. The second occurrence is most commonly expressed through members of the hearing world ("Audism," 2012, par 7). It is important to note that these two methods of audism are not mutually exclusive in practice. Often, audism expressed through the hearing world influences greatly how members within the deaf community treat each other. If both variations are present, it is more likely for certain people within the deaf community to become more hostile towards other deaf individuals they believe are less compatible with the hearing world than they are. In these terms, audism is comparable to other forms of discrimination such as racism, sexism, and homophobia and is something the WFD addresses in their quest for human rights.

Audism, like any other form of discrimination, is based upon illogical, unfair and inappropriate standards. Within the deaf community, this is most easily seen through a split between deaf individuals who are viewed in a category more in line with the hearing world and deaf individuals who are viewed in a category that is inferior and short of the standard set by the stereotype of the hearing world. Audism also presents pressure with the standards attached to it which affects the perceptions of non-deaf and deaf people alike within their respective communities.


Audism. (2012). Retrieved from

Bauman, H. L. (2004). Audism: Exploring the metaphysics of oppression. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 9(2), 239-246. doi: 10.1093/deafed/enh025

Hauser, P. C., O'Hearn, A., McKee, M., Steider, A., & Thew, D. (2010). Deaf epistemology: Deafhood and deafness. American Annals of the Deaf, 154(5), 486-492. Retrieved from