-isms Run Amok

Lately there’s been a lot of discussion regarding audism, ethnocentrism, surdism, because of the rise of Audism Free America, a grassroots deaf organization.  I checked out Tom Humphries’ 1975 article “The Making of a Word: Audism” which contains the definition of the word “audism” that he originally coined.  Harlan Lane was to later popularize this word in his writings about Deaf culture and ASL.

Humphries’ definition of audism is “The notion that one is superior based on one’s ability to hear or to behave in the manner of one who hears.”  Humphries obviously was referring to hearing people or to deaf oralists who discriminate against the deaf simply because they regard their ability to hear as better than a deaf person’s inability to hear.

Ethnocentrism is a rather general word for the belief in the inherent superiority of one’s own ethnic group or culture.   White supremacists believe that the white Caucasian race is superior over other races, for example.

Surd-ism, which most dictionaries don’t acknowledge as a word yet, is derived from the Latin word surd, meaning “speechless”.  Interesting that the original meaning focuses on the inability to speak but not on the inability to hear.   ASS-umption of “can’t speak, therefore can’t hear” on the Romans’ part,  I guess,*shrug*.  In phonetics, surds are the sounds said with breath, not voice, such as p, s, f, etc. as opposed to sonants, or speech sounds said with voice. The definition of surd-ism doesn’t exist as yet.

I’ve also noted other -isms that pop up on DR and DV such as deaf-ism, oralism,  robotism,  dis-ableism and others.

Man, that’s a lotta -isms run amok.  Ever wonder why we d/Deaf have this thing for -isms?

For simplicity’s sake, I’ll focus on the -ism known as audism.

Audism is generally regarded as  a form of discrimination practiced by hearing individuals or institutions who believe that hearing is better than deafness.

Ok, but the word ‘audism’ is like splitting hairs.

I mean, discrimination against the d/Deaf is sufficient enough, just like discrimination against the blind or against wheelchair persons is sufficient.  You don’t see visual-ism (sight-ism?) or ambulator-ism, do you? Many people, able-bodied or  not, recognize the word discrimination for what it is.  But audism?

I wonder how other disabled people fighting discrimination regard the d/Deaf ‘s moniker “audism” for discrimination against the d/Deaf.  It’s as though the  d/Deaf want to set themselves apart from other disabled people as a special lobby group to be treated via kid-glove treatment.   Is this ‘solidarity’ with the disability movement?  Well, there are some d/Deaf who don’t consider their deafness a disability, a contradiction in terms, as some d/Deaf individuals get SSI benefits, which are based on disability, and regard their deafness a cultural value, not a medical one.

If a d/Deaf person doesn’t consider his deafness a disability but rather a cultural one,  then audism should be defined as a cultural discrimination and not a disability discrimination.   Humphries clearly defines audism as a discrimination against the d/Deaf based on one’s ability to hear or to behave in the manner of one who hears.  So there you have it, audism is a disability-based discrimination, not a language or cultural-based discrimination.  There’s no mention of speech or language or culture  in Humphries’ definition.   Deaf people have taken audism to mean a discrimination against sign language (ASL), a cultural aspect.  At least that’s the way AFA’s philosophy and mission present audism.

Me, I’d rather stick with “discrimination against the d/Deaf”.  Much more easily understood and more inclusive of all d/Deaf, ‘disabled’ or cultural.

I’d appreciate it if comments are kept civil, thanks.


41 Responses to “-isms Run Amok”

  1. anon Says:

    You’re not being honest, because there is no such thing as a “1975 article.” That means you did not check it.

  2. Karen Mayes Says:


    Tell me about it.

    I learned something from my sister, which I’d like to share with you:

    “People get passionate and shut down when they feel threatened, or “oppressed”. Remind them that in this day and age “differently-abled people” (ugh I HATE the overzealous PC terminology) are really not looked at as “less than” – I think most people are in a way FASCINATED by the strength they show. One of my favorite phrases is: “no one can make you feel inferior WITHOUT YOUR CONSENT”. So if people are looking for a way to feel oppressed, then creating a “club” or “movement” calling out that they are oppressed is exactly the way to feel oppressed! Everyone struggles. Life is hard. But life is GOOD. Another phrase Dad introduced me to is “there are no VICTIMS only VOLUNTEERS”. It’s a choice. It’s not always an easy or obvious choice, it’s not always the right choice that is made, but we always always always have choices.”

    Sooo… *shrug*.

  3. White Ghost Says:

    I know, Ann_C. I looked up my favorite, the Merriam-Webster dictionary online, “ableism” which is founded in 1981. I find it interesting with this word. Our attitude is: “We can do it.” That’s what Obama’s theme during his campaign, “Yes, we can” I thought that is great attitude. “Anything we can do in our lifetime” is a great example.

    “Discrimination against d/Deaf” is something we could use in the legal system. Yet, these “five sense” words, including the -ism/ist that does not exist in the legal system unless they bought up the legitimate question. That’s the argument in the legal system. Especially, the medical terms. It’s going to be a sticky situation nowadays.

    There’s more…..Discrimination against b/Blind, Discrimination against a/Amputation, and many more. I thought it would be appropriate language in the legal system.

  4. A Deaf Pundit Says:

    The whole debate is quite interesting to me. There’s one word that everyone I think, has overlooked.

    Linguicism. (Language discrimination)

    NAD has it in their values statement found here: http://blogs.nad.org/advocacy/2009/04/01/what-does-the-nad-stand-for/

    In my humble opinion, I think that’s a more accurate description of what AG Bell is practicing against the Deaf Community. Not audism. Not ethnocentrism. Not surdism.

  5. kmayes Says:

    How about this?



  6. kmayes Says:

    ASLPride came up with that word… not to be taken seriously though, just throwing out the ism words.

  7. ireflections09 Says:

    Anon, the source is http://www.geocities.com/deafpixel/audism.html. “The Making of a Word: Audism” Tom Humphries. (1975) Unfortunately I haven’t yet got the hang of linking sources, as I’m a rather new blogger. Gallaudet also has plenty of sources on Tom Humphries and the word “audism”. Harlan Lane has several references to Humphries’ work as well in his writings. So Humphries’ article has to pre-date Lane’s writings which started in the 1980’s.

    Karen, I know! Love the phrase your dad came up with “There are no VICTIMS but VOLUNTEERS.” The words “discrimination against the d/Deaf” is far better understood by hearing people. The word “audism” puzzles most hearing people, as they’ve never heard of it before. It’s not in popular usage through out the country and even among the d/Deaf the word is confusing as well. Imagine calling hearing people “audists” and not pinning the problem to their ACTIONS, the discrimination. It’s like calling someone a “rascist”. Does that really accomplish anything?

    DP, yeah, I’ve seen that term linguicism. But linguicism covers discrimination against another’s language, be it ASL, Spanish, French, etc. The -ism doesn’t cover other discriminative actions against the d/Deaf.

    Interesting, WP, that the word audism may not be regarded a legal term in U.S. courts, as it’s not defined in many dictionaries or in common usage. I’d think that “discrimination against the d/Deaf” is a no-brainer.

  8. I am embarrassed. Says:


    Your blogpost is oversimpified and so are some of your commenters.
    The reflection of the oversimplication of yours and their minds, is it

    The same is true about your gang know as “The Club of Barry Sewell.”

    It is very regretful to see them published on Google. you have to pay the price for this. No wonder you had to hide your full name. You deceive no one but yourself.

  9. kmayes Says:

    Dear I am embarrassed.

    I can verify that Ann_C, Deaf Pundit, and White Ghost ARE not part of Barry Sewell’s club. But you can call me part of his club, since I do leave comments under his vlog and blog. *shrug*

    AND there are NO rights and NO wrongs about everything… Remember it is all perspectives.

    Have a nice day.

  10. kmayes Says:

    By the way, kmayes stands for Karen Mayes… that is my real name.

    Don’t ASSume too much.

  11. ireflections09 Says:

    To I am embarrassed,

    You obviously have never checked Mr. Sewell’s blog or vlog, because I don’t comment there. And I never go to DVTV besides.

    As for hiding behind a name, speak for yourself.

  12. J.J. Says:


    I think I’ll start a movement named JJism :-).

  13. drmzz Says:

    Actually DISSism is run amok. Again, what do I expect from people whose thought-content functions behind a keyboard or webcam? No legs. Hearing people invented most of ism’s btw and for us, AUDISM is real just like RACISM and so on. Discrimination is inherent in such terms. Ethnocentrism does not apply cuz people with all levels of hearing loss can be affected by Audism. Surdism is what it is, absurd logic. Thanks goodness for DISSism!

  14. Robert Alfred Hawkins Says:

    I’m pre-lingually deaf and a native user of ASL.

    It’s rarely I see the term, deafism. Don’t I see a double standard going on here?

    ::: shaking my head at this irony :::


    All this and that going on I haven’t yet seen HARD NUMBERS posted by DBC/AFA.

    How many in attendance at their events. Is NAD officially represented at DBC/AFA events?

  15. ireflections09 Says:

    JJ, you’re a hoot! 😉

    Hey drmzz, I could throw a lot more into the mix. How about phonocentrism or audiocentrism? Heh. I’d be careful using surdism on the deaf blogosphere, we’d get absurd logic all right.

  16. Candy Says:

    Amidst all of the amokiness of the words surrounding “Audism,” I much prefer to stick to ‘oppression.’ Either way, whatever goes around isn’t going to bother me a bit. I do my thing, and they do theirs. However, when it comes to Audism Free America, I’m totally amused. Again, they can do their thing, and I’ll do mine. One only has to have eyes to see the truth, and perhaps a simple view of the world to go with the eyes.

    Since this post isn’t about AFA but more so about Audism, I’ll stop here.

  17. anon Says:

    Sorry, that is not an article! Where was it published? What’s the full bibliographic citation?

    YOU obviously have no idea what you are talking about.

  18. Candy Says:


    It is a well known fact that Tom Humphries wrote on that, did a video on that, etc. etc. Why don’t YOU look it up online. There isn’t anything that Ann_C said that isn’t true. I think it is YOU that don’t even know what you’re talking about.

    Jamie Burke wrote on it and provided the information:

    “According to an article in Capital D Magazine (vol. 1, issue 1) (now apparently defunct), Tom Humphries invented the word “audism” in 1975 to mean an attitude that people who hear and speak, or have good English are superior.”

    Here, you’ll find that it states that Humphries coined up that word in his 1977 doctorial dissertation:


    I don’t know what your issue is Anon, but if you’re being picky on dates and such, get a life.

    But, there is no question that Humphries first coined up that word. Whether that word is correct or not is irrelevant.

    I think it is you that don’t even know what you’re talking about. Otherwise, please get to the point.

  19. kim Says:

    Thanks so much for this interesting post on audism. I’m so glad to see youve finally started a blog. Your thoughts are always so well organized and you have much to say.

    The meaning of ‘audism’ is evolving like so many other word. Its meaning will continue to evolve with common usage. Dictionaries base their definitions in large part on how people use words, not the other way around. In other words, if enough people continue to misuse ‘audism’ in the manner you described, then the very meaning of it will change. This is why I try to stay away from semantics debates.

    Still, I think you made some great points about disability, and the fact that uniting ourselves with the disabled community by using words everyone understands (discrimination against d/Deaf, for example) will help our cause. It’s also more uniting for our entire d/Deaf community to settle on similar words to describe what we’re experiencing.

    The d/Deaf thing has to go, as well.

  20. Joseph Pietro Riolo Says:

    I thought you might be interested to know this.

    At http://www.onelook.com , enter “*ism” (without the quotation marks) in the text box for “Word or phrase:” and click on Search button. Then, click on the link for “Common words only” so that it can limit the list to the common words that end in -ism.

    After clicking on the link for the next page many times, I finally reached the end of the list and found that there are 1,888 common words ending in -ism. The last word is Zurvanism that talks about a specific Zoroastrian doctrine. The first word is ableism.

    Although the list of common words ending in –ism does not have the word “audsim”, it will appear in the list if “All matches” is used.

    Fun, isn’t it? 🙂

    Good blog.

    Joseph Pietro Riolo

    Public domain notice: I put all of my expressions in this post in the public domain.

  21. kmayes Says:

    I agree with kim… the d/Deaf obsession needs to go. It bothers me to see Miss Kat’s mom’s words being “DISS”ed by deaf people. She represents the majority… We can’t disregard the majority.

  22. wolbring Says:

    audism its really an ability based discrimination.
    the problem is that the term disability is used in a very diffuse way a) to cover social discrimination and b) synonymous with impairment focusing on body structure functioning.
    here my ableism blog

  23. Candy Says:

    Totally! I am amazed at these organization. It would appear to me that DBC and AFA is out there trying to spread the message to hearing parents. Yet, they forget that hearing parents of deaf children are the ones that needs convincing. No one is listening to Miss Kat’s Mom. Over at Jehanne’s Vlog where Miss Kat’s Mom asked what is wrong with having both ASL and C.I.? and no one responded to her. They totally ignored her. Oh, ok…. What the heck are they protesting for? It is not AGB that they need to convince. It is the parents of deaf children.

    I guess they’re just not interested in reaching out to the hearing parents of deaf children. I’m not sure what their purpose is after all, I guess. It would seem to me that their objective is a very selfish one. Is it fame that they’re seeking? Do they just want to have their name in the spotlight? I’m not sure. But, it all stinks. These groups keeps forgetting that they need to convince hearing parents of deaf children and they’re not doing a good job of it so far. Of all the people in this blogosphere, Miss Kat’s Mom is one they should take heed of. How often do you find a hearing parent of a deaf child who did their own research and decided that ASL/Bi-Bi is the way to go and then decided to add in the C.I. in order to give their child everything possible and not once ever dissed ASL? It’s sad that these organization do not realize that they are underestimating the power of a Parent.

  24. Dianrez Says:

    Miss Kat’s mom, representative of a new breed of mom, voices a support of both ASL and oral-aural exposure early in childhood.

    That no one apparently responded may indicate that we agree–do we always respond when someone says “I support ASL”? Some things are just understood.

    I think Miss Kat’s mom is concerned that we may drive AGBell right out of business. Not knowing the history or the insidiousness of that organization’s audism, it would be understandable for a parent to see only the good side of AGBell.

    She has a point, however: parents also need support from the deaf people themselves and their professional organizations.

  25. Candy Says:


    Miss Kat’s mom asked a question. Questions deserves an answer. It was not a matter of agreeing or disagreeing.

    I don’t think Miss Kat’s mom was concerned that we are driving AGB out of business. Are you serious? We all know that is not going to happen. Is that the goal of AFA and DBC? Nowhere did I see anything on her part that indicates that. I think you underestimated Miss Kat’s mom. I really do.

    She makes a very good point and if these organization serves to reach out to the parents, then they need to re-think their strategy as not to scare the parents away and I think this is what Miss Kat’s mom is trying to say.

  26. White Ghost Says:

    Dianrez —

    I have to disagree with you. No one except Jehanne answered Miss Kat’s question. Everybody know that her daughter has a CI. Jehanne answered her question that is not enough. Not a specific question. Is it because she has a CI?

    I was cringed that AFA posted Kim’s story about CI in AFA’s blog, “Journey of Annex: Kim’s story. All of a sudden, they removed it. What’s the F**k going on? What does it have to do with AFA’s rally? This will make many hearing parents of deaf child/children away from this!

    Nothing has been changed in a bit…..

  27. kmayes Says:

    I have to agree with Candy. I did notice Patti Durr sweetly telling Miss Kat’s mom to direct her questions to AGBell, quite a brush off, on Jeanne’s blog. That is not how it is done, and it makes Patti look a bit unprofessional.

    Oh brother…

    Reality is not always pretty, but true… we live in the hearing word.

  28. ireflections09 Says:

    Thanks for that interesting ism link and the compliment, Joseph!

    Candy and Dianrez,
    Miss Kat’s Mom has a valid point. She has been a supporter of ASL and uses it with her daughter. She also uses AGBell as a resource for her child has a CI. Think DBC or AFA will promote cochlear implants or AVT/ oral speech therapy? Very doubtful, as neither organization has clarified their stand on cochlear implants or spoken English. OTOH AGBell does not promote ASL, as their mission is very crystal clear in that they promote hearing and speaking for deaf children. AGBell does list sign language as another option on their website and refers to other organizations who do promote it, such as Hands and Voices, for example.

    I think the real problem lies with the deaf adults who went through oral programs of the recent past and experienced language delays. There is a lot of anger and resentment being directed at AGBell because the organization was responsible for training the many speech pathologists, therapists, deaf education administrative and teaching staff, etc who filtered the “no sign language, oral only” dictum down to the parents of deaf children. In the ’40’s to the ’80’s there was no real deaf activism until NAD and the Gallaudet protests appeared, so activism is fairly new to the deaf community. There have been protests by the deaf community in the past, but not in an effective and organized way. DBC and AFA will go through many mistakes before they realize that tilting at AGBell (the windmills?) may win the audism battles for the deaf community, but they’ll end up losing the public relations war, so to speak. The war is to win the hearts and minds of the hearing parents of deaf children, not to bring AGBell down.


  29. Candy Says:

    I must have missed Patti’s comment over at Jehanne’s vlog site. A compassionate organization that really cares about reaching out to hearing parents of deaf babies/children would, I would think, done so in a warm manner. How can that organization succeed if they have successfully turned these parents away? What is the REAL mission of these organization then? One might surmise?

    Also, I noticed Jehanne stated that AFA is about giving the children the right to sign.

    Ahh, I get it now. AFA and DBC has the same mission. I thought AFA was all about stopping ISMs, Now, I’m not too sure. I think the message is not straightforward at best.

    I think I understand things more now. I think this mission of both organization just wants a place in the history of the deaf. That, they’ll get. Just how good, is the question. Perhaps Jodi, the Tuscany mom will be able to achieve all that, especially so with better public relations. Her approach is one that they all should also learn from. That and Hand & Voices, among others. Learn from the best. 😉

  30. White Ghost Says:

    Yes, Candy.

    The AFA and DBC are the same page and mission. Transparency.

    I fell in love with Jodi, the tuscany Mom and her great approach. I notice there are other organizations such as Hand and Voices that does not need to pursue the demands and try to damage AG Bell. Not necessary.

    Do on your part for advocating to the hearing parents of deaf child/children will make the greatest public relations. Make a GOOD approach and use professional manners. Especially good attitudes. Wear business suits.

    DBC and AFA are the same boat and failed to do so…..they did not play smart.

  31. Candy Says:

    One other thing that I’m getting, I could be wrong, is that these two organization may have decided to “be like” AGBell by actually going for ASL/Bi-Bi and reject anything more than that. Again, I’m just theorizing. I could be wrong. If, in fact they are doing so. They would in essence be practicing a form of ISM towards AGBell and their philosophy. One might easily say that AFA and DBC is an audist towards AGBell in the same way they feel that AGBell is an audist towards them. Only, just only if people really practice the Golden Rule.

    I kind of view all of that as childish. Getting even, revenge, or in other words, getting back at someone in the same manner as they got from that person all usually ends unfavorably in the long run.

    I’m done. Am going back to reading my latest novel.


  32. Joseph Pietro Riolo Says:

    I just want to write something that may be controversial. When I read Candy’s latest comment about rejecting all choices except the bilingual program of ASL and English, will this lead to ASLism where a choice that involves ASL is judged to be better than a choice that does not involve ASL?

    I hope that Ann_C will not yell at me for creating yet other -ism word. 🙂

    Joseph Pietro Riolo

    Public domain notice: I put all of my expressions in this post in the public domain.

  33. kmayes Says:


    Yes. It is becoming boring… Let DBC/AFA do whatever they want to. Let AGBell do whatever it wants to. I am washing my hands off of this…

    There’d always be “oppression” (of ALL kinds)… it existed in the past, exists today and will exist in the future, as a part of survival. That is life.

  34. White Ghost Says:

    Yes, it is our job educating people to understand the sensitivity of deaf people’s needs…..for the rest of our life, Karen M.

    Even with the people who cannot speak nor write in english, it’s their job educating us and others as well. (Psst, I’d love to learn some new foreign sign language….it’s the secret weapon!) 😛

    No difference. I don’t need to join either of them (AFA/DBC). Thumbs down.

    Candy is reading “Twilight”…..Edward Cullen aka Robert Patterson is HOT vampire! He’s good vampire. Really!

  35. kmayes Says:

    Ha, WG, I heard that Robert Patterson is not into taking showers ;o)

    I am looking forward to seeing the 2nd movie… but I DO need to read the books first.

  36. ireflections09 Says:

    Joseph, I gave the onelink.com source a twirl, now that’s one interesting dictionary source! Isms galore, thousands of ’em. Audism appears under “common words only” search. Fascinating what the source turns up based on how one defines the search parameters. That one I bookmarked, thanks for the reference.

    As for your ASLism, that’s an interesting twist. An ism typically asserts a belief of superiority over another’s value, skin color, religion, hearing ability, whatever, and discriminates at the same time.

    I quote what you said, ” …will this lead to ASLism where a choice that involves ASL is judged to be better than a choice that does not involve ASL?”

    Judging an option as better is something else and the word “choice” is used. Discrimination is NOT a choice, it ‘s an oppressive action against someone.

    If ASLism would be regarded as a form of discrimination and say such an -ism exists for example, then it would be the belief that ASL is superior to spoken language, discriminating against the oral deaf and the hearing who do not use ASL for a communication method. It’s the opposite of oralism.

    And so it goes. 😉


  37. Joseph Pietro Riolo Says:

    Hi Ann_C, Thanks for pointing out the subtle error in my thinking. I now can see what you meant by the difference between making a choice and oppressing or discriminating against someone else due to the difference in value or choice.

    I am wondering about this. Gallaudet University is now searching for the next president. In its announcement for the position of the president, it requires that the candidates must have fluency in ASL. Even though a candidate has all excellent qualities in leadership and administration and yet lacks the fluency in ASL, he or she will be rejected from the pool of eligible candidates. From your perspective, is this an example of ASLism where the candidates with fluency in ASL are preferred over the candidates that lack such fluency?

    If you don’t want to answer the question, that’s fine and you have my full understanding. I can see how it can be controversial. It may be better to say nothing.

    Thanks for your feedback.

    Joseph Pietro Riolo

    Public domain notice: I put all of my expressions in this post in the public domain.

  38. ireflections09 Says:


    You pose an interesting situation concerning the upcoming selection of Gallaudet’s next president. I believe, due to the protest against Jane Fernandes’ presidency at Gallaudet, the university is making fluency in ASL a requirement for the next candidate to placate those who believe the university president should reflect their Deaf values, that is, Deaf culture and the use of ASL, in their hopes that the university will always remain the university for the Deaf.

    When Fernandes was selected, the screening process didn’t require ASL fluency but it was considered a desirable plus along with the other requirements. If Gallaudet’s board of directors have since changed the requirements, they would’ve had to have a majority to vote on those changes. I don’t know if the board has to go according to certain by-laws or not as far as the university president selection, as I’m not a legal expert. I suppose the board is well within its rights to spell out certain requirements for the administrative post of the presidency, and a president’s ASL fluency would probably make communication easier between university administration, the students, teachers, and alumni.

    However, I’m aware also that Gallaudet is a federally chartered institution, meaning much of its funding comes from taxpayers’ dollars. The board of directors may have some license when it comes to university president requirements, but Congress frowns at any whiff of discrimination. It would be a first, a precedent, if a candidate who was rejected on the basis of lack of ASL fluency but otherwise qualified in all the other requirements brings a hiring discrimination suit based on ASLism against the university.

    OTOH AGBell, a private organization, broke with longstanding tradition by selecting a deaf president, Jay Wyant, recently. I don’t think the screening requirements included deafness.


  39. Joseph Pietro Riolo Says:

    Thank you, Ann_C, for your well-thought comment.

  40. The RED A : Scarlet Letter « Candy Says:

    […] I first saw Ann_C’s post “isms Run Amok”, what came to mind was this movie Hocus Pocus, a favorite of mine where Winifred Sanderson said, […]

  41. Deaf Village Says:

    […] I first saw Ann_C’s post “isms Run Amok”, what came to mind was this movie Hocus Pocus, a favorite of mine where Winifred Sanderson said, […]

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