Addressing Audiocentric Privilege: How Audism is Being Practiced

By Ashanti Monts-Tréviska and Jessica Leung, CDN Stewarding Leaders



Many of us may know some forms of oppression including racism or sexism in action. However, do we fully understand how various forms of oppression come into existence or how to examine the root causes of oppression? Many of us do not take the time to critically think about how we internalize oppression or how we practice various privileges as the oppressor(s) towards marginalized or underrepresented groups. This article would guide us to find and confront the oppressor within us (Article link: Locating the Oppressor within Us). The question is how do we begin to de-internalize the audiocentric privileges?


What is audism? It might seem foreign to some of us because it is rarely discussed, however, it needs to be addressed in many social [change] spaces and in many communities whether it is about peace & justice or social justice & equity. Audism is a social violence of practicing the dehumanization of Deaf people and DeafBlind people. Audism is something everyone is capable of practicing. When we practice audism, we are part of the larger [oppressive or supremacist] system that continues to oppress with or without power and privilege. We are not working towards to become part of the solutions together due to a lack of understanding of intercultural & intergenerational accountability.


Ableism and Audism can be interchangeably confusing because many hearing people view Deaf people as Disabled people. Honestly, most Deaf people do not view themselves as Disabled people. They can be the able-bodied oppressors towards Deaf Disabled people and DeafBlind people within Deaf communities. When social justice & equity or peace & justice groups fight against the single-sided oppression, they forget about the critical need to fight against intersectional injustices including ableism and audism. In other words, we are not here to debate about the hierarchy of oppressions (hierarchy of oppression article here). It is about addressing the oppressor within ourselves.


Let’s clarify the difference between ableism and audism. Ableism is part of the critical disability theory and it is best described as an exclusionary practice of discriminating Disabled people as well as inhibiting them from contributing to their equitable social citizenry. Ableism focuses on the oppressive ideology of the denial of assimilation which promotes the greater traction in the social mobility of Disabled people. On the other hand, audism is based on an oppressive ideology of the denial of pluralistic cultural democracy or cultural autonomy. Audism is also based on the dehumanizing process of forcing social and cultural conformity on Deaf people to benefit the audiocentric privileges. In the context of social conformity, Deaf communities and Disabled communities share the similar passion of gaining and maintaining autonomous goals of having collective self-determination, access to the equitable process of civic engagement, empowerment of intercultural accountability and sacred ethical citizenship being honored. These groups can have the opportunity to work together to dismantle ableism and audism equitably.


There are different types of how audism is being practiced on different levels. There are currently four types of audism:


1. Individual Audism: a practice of audiocentric attitudes and presumptions that are used to justify hegemonic privilege or social colonialism and monocultural [phonocentric] supremacy.


2. Institutional Audism: a practice of structural exploitation of Deaf people and of their cultural-linguistic existence or ancestry on the systemic level.


3. Metaphysical Audism: a phonocentric attitude believing that to be fully human is to be able to speak English well (in the United States). Phonocentrism is based on a biased belief system preferring spoken languages over American Sign Language (ASL) or sign languages.


4. Laissez-Faire Audism: a practice of acknowledging the existence of Deaf individuals and Deaf culture while denying their cultural autonomy through social and systemic heteronomy. 


These types of audism can be expressed on different levels. They can be expressed overtly, covertly and aversively. Overt audism can be expressed outwardly in plain view in practicing discrimination against Deaf/DeafBlind people or exercising superiority over Deaf/DeafBlind people. Covert audism can be difficult to identify, however, not impossible to identify and it can be practiced in disguise. Aversive audism is a practice of socially excluding Deaf/DeafBlind people from social equity opportunities to thrive on the community level.


How do we begin to be part of the solutions in dismantling all forms of oppression including audism? Keep this in mind when co-creating equitable inclusive communities or societies: Oppression carries many faces whether they are sexism, racism, ableism, cisgenderism, homophobia, xenophobia, etc. If we were to dismantle one of the faces of oppression exclusively, the remaining faces of oppression would still be in existence via continual cycles of perpetuation. Our societies are still going to be riddled with oppression and systemic violence perpetually until we learn to understand that all oppression are interconnected.


Here are possible transformative solutions in deconstructing and dismantling the social injustice of audism. Possible solutions to transform our attitudes and our ways of thinking to reduce the oppression of Deaf & DeafBlind people:


  • Promote the human rights of Deaf & DeafBlind people as cultural-linguistic ethnic group and acknowledge the ethical citizenship of Deaf community members unconditionally.



  • Embrace intercultural accountability by engaging in intergroup dialogues and deepen the awareness of communication equity.


  • Build a healthy collaborative relationship with Deaf community leaders to co-lead the co-creation of social change through the power of WITH (do not do things for or over or behind Deaf/DeafBlind people. Include them in everyday dialogue and give them equitable access to full information, not selectively) and through the multicultural democratic processes.


  • Social Justice & Equity needs to include Deaf-centric perspectives of equity and justice or of peace and justice or of transformative justice.


  • If we were to question the military industrial complex (MIC) within the context of peace and justice, we need to question auditory industrial complex (AIC) which promotes the eugenic processes of eliminating the existence of Deaf/DeafBlind people and their culture.


  • Nurture the growth of non-hierarchical leadership to share the power dynamic with Deaf/DeafBlind leaders and Deaf/DeafBlind citizens.


  • Acknowledge and embrace American Sign Language (ASL) and sign languages as a human right of Deaf/DeafBlind people to justify their authentic reasons to exist equitably.


We believe this is not the end of the list of possible solutions. We at Cascadia Deaf Nation envisioned a world where every culture including Deaf culture are respected and valued in contributing to the advancement of human evolution. We are imagining a time to have Deaf president in several countries, a time to take back our collective power to co-lead how captions are being expressed or being demonstrated on movie screens and mainstream videos, a time to see more Deaf & DeafBlind people (especially Deaf people of color) being doctors, school administrators, lawyers, college professors, and community responders, etc, and a time to envision much more than that. We hope to accomplish these visions with the underrepresented communities of color and the solidarity communities comprised of [liberated] hearing people. We invite you to collaborate with us by co-creating necessary intergroup dialogues to create a different kind of future.

Reading resources/references on Audism:

ASL version (coming soon)