Saturday, June 20, 2009

AFA shares excerpt of Dr. Humphries dissertation re: audism

Excerpt from Tom Humphries’ dissertation:
Communicating across cultures (deaf-hearing) and language learning (pp. 7-10)

Reprinted here with permission from the author - many thanks to Dr. Humphries for coining the term Audism and for examining the unexamined.

"I grew up in a hearing environment and had all the values, behavior and mannerisms of a hearing person. I was especially proud of my success as a deaf hearing person. For all the wrong reasons. Every time I “passed” for hearing, I was extremely proud. In my isolation from other deaf people, I thought of myself as the only one of my kind. I disdained sign language. I was extremely proud of my English, my speech and my ability to communicate with hearing people where other deaf people could not. Needless to say, I felt superior to other deaf people. This was based on my ignorance of what other deaf people were like. From what I could see they were limited, uneducated people and it embarrassed me greatly to be identified with them. I delighted when hearing people compared me to other deaf people and labeled me successful and exceptional. I actively participated in putting down those people who signed, could not use English fluently, could not speak, and could not pass for hearing.

If I were asked, I might say I was hard-of-hearing even though I am profoundly deaf. If asked, I would recommend my experience, social and educational, for every deaf person. Those deaf people who were not as “successful” as I simply were not trying hard enough or were not gifted enough. Most of my life, I spent walking around in public places pretending to be hearing, trying to hide my difference. It is a lonely existence because you can speak to no one lest your difference be exposed. I managed to be happy most of the time by suppressing many, many feelings. I think it’s called “overcoming your handicap.” Why I thought that hiding it was “overcoming” it I do not know, except that this seemed to be the thinking of our society.

And society reinforced all of these ideas and attitudes of mine. Society demanded that I pass or be isolated completely. Society demanded that I conform and shamed me if I did not. Society talked of rehabilitation, institutionalization and charity for the handicapped. Society was perfectly willing to banish me to that twilight zone of invisibility for secondary members of society such as blacks, women, American Indians, and the blind. Society was willing to help me hide my difference if I wanted to go this route by teaching me to ignore and suppress my difference rather than acknowledge and accept it.

It was not until long after I had met other deaf people and lived with them for years that I began to acknowledge and accept this difference in me as something desirable. My education about myself and other deaf people began at seventeen. It took many years before I could actually think about deafness without suppressing how I felt about myself. For many of these years I continued to actively oppress other deaf people in many ways. I set myself up as an example of what a deaf person should be because it was a power trip. It was a power trip to compete with other deaf people for the rewards offered by the hearing society (good grades, jobs, scholarships, praise, inclusion, etc.) and win easily because I could speak, behave and think as a hearing person.

Where did I get disillusioned with these rewards? When did I begin to see what I had done to myself? When did I begin to recognize audist behavior? When did I begin to want to change? There are no dates, no events that I can isolate as being the beginning of change. I know only that I grew dissatisfied with the promises that society had held up for me. The promise of acceptance into society [sic]. It never happened. The promise of happiness as a full participant [sic]. It never happened. In a very real sense, the promise that my deafness should and would go away eventually because I would “conquer” it [sic]. It never happened. From this dissatisfaction came the questioning. It became very personal. The examination of my inner self to see what I really felt [sic]. Did I really like what I had become? Did I really accept being deaf? Did it matter if I were? Did I really know anything about myself? Was I in touch with my feelings? Was my attitude about deaf people the result of my own ignorance of my deafness? Was I as a person in the middle of dealing with other -isms really dealing with my audism? Was I as a person doing anything about my own needs? For that matter, did I know what I really needed?

Then the hard answers and the anger hurt. And the almost daily insights and learning about myself and my environment [sic]. Most of it painful too [sic]. Just how much I had bought into this system was painful to discover. I don’t think this is any different from the awareness that many women have suddenly found themselves with. I cannot emphasize too strongly that what happened to me was not any different from what happens to other people in other groups. The process of dissatisfaction, self-examination and striving for awareness and real change is something that is happening to many people. I am no exception.

I tried to relate feelings that I was having about what I viewed as oppression, discrimination and audism towards myself and other deaf people to what had and was happening to other minority groups. I found many similarities and this reinforced my desire to be aware of these things as they occur in my own environment. I began to wonder why I had let them slide by me in the first place. I was determined not to let them go by unquestioned anymore. I was determined to acknowledge them and call others' [sic] attention to them. It required that I eliminate these behaviors from myself. It required some confrontation with other people. It was a long time before I could feel good about being deaf, about other deaf people, about ASL and a deaf culture, about being different and a member of a minority group."


Humphries, Thomas. 1977. Communicating across cultures (deaf-hearing) and language learning, Ph.D. dissertation, Union Institute and University, Cincinnati, Ohio.