SASLJ Vol. 2 No. 2 - Page 60

Woke Up to Audism Wilkinson A commentary on Humphries' 1977 excerpt, "Audism" The World Woke Up to Audism Erin Wilkinson University of New Mexico In 1975, Tom Humphries gave a word to the experience unique to deaf people who use American Sign Language (ASL), and it is audism. Not only did the coinage of audism recognized deaf people’s struggle as discriminated-against people, it also validated their frustrations over the discrimination and oppression due to their deafness. Given that most deaf people are born to hearing families, hearing family members cannot fully relate to their deaf children, siblings, and relatives simply because they do not share the same experience of being discriminated based on hearing ability. They develop the assumption that hearing ability is the norm, because it is rare for them to encounter deaf people. It is easy to assume that hearing people are naïve and ignorant of their hearing privilege. In theory, hearing people are not born with audist ideas nor attitudes, but as history has shown, hearing people developed ableist notions on the premise that “language is synonymous with speech” (Armstrong & Karchmer, 2009). In other words, hearing people’s views of deaf people relate to deaf people’s spoken language abilities (not hearing ability per se). But is audism only about the prejudice based on hearing abilities? Not quite. Humphries defined audism as “the notion that one is superior based on one’s ability to hear or behave in the manner of one who hears” (italics added for emphasis, Humphries, 1975). According to Humphries, audists are those people who believe hearing behaviors are superior, and this can apply to both hearing and deaf people. This happened to Humphries who is a deaf man. He confessed that he had audist beliefs, but this happened because he was (like many deaf people) “brought up as a hearing person with basic hearing person behavior and values” (Humphries, 1975, p. 3). This brings to a new line of inquiry—what are the behaviors that illustrate audist ideas or attitudes among deaf people? This question will be explored with an examination of two ASL literary works by American poet Clayton Valli and the storyteller Ben Bahan. Clayton Valli’s 1990 poem Snowflake sends a powerful message about the value of spoken language over signed language. The poem pierces with a vivid image of a father’s adulation over two sentences arduously spoken by his five years old deaf child. This scene illustrates how a few spoken words are worth their weight in gold compared to the value of carrying out a meaningful conversation in signed language with a deaf child in the family. The theme of the Snowflake poem strongly relates to audism since it concerns the power hearing people have over deaf children regarding language usage. In the poem, the snowflake is a metaphor for a deaf child. Valli reminds us that each deaf child has their own unique identity, similar to snowflakes on the basis that there are no two snowflakes are exactly alike. In other words, the poem exemplifies the uniqueness of all children, and this includes signing children. Not only should we celebrate and value their contributions as signers to our linguistically and culturally diverse society, we also need to recognize those children’s right to thrive as signers in order to become flourishing deaf members. The deaf flourishing theory is gaining momentum among scholars (Blankmeyer Burke, 2015; De Clerck, 2016) as they propose that in order for deaf people to flourish, deaf people need to be nurtured in SASLJ, Vol. 2, No. 2 – Fall/Winter 2018 60