Audism – an Invisible Discrimination

A joint production by Deaf Journalism Europe by Martina Cosentino (il Labiolettore), Jozef Vahovský (DeafStudio), and Kenny Åkesson (Teckenbro).

Society consists of various obstacles and challenges for us humans. For the deaf, audism might be the greatest challenge. Audism is a form of discrimination based on hearing impairment. It takes different forms, ranging from obvious situations where one is excluded from work-related meetings due to a lack of interpreters, to the most subtle situations such as the silence during a speech-based conversation where a deaf person cannot keep up. Deaf Journalism Europe talks with deaf researcher Mirko Santoro about the topic of audism, which he has conducted a study on.

Deaf individuals face audism in various forms and levels. Mirko says that the image of audism is like a pyramid, with the top consisting of clear and open audism while the bottom consists of more subtle and hard-to-identify audism. Furthermore, he explains that audism does not only occur when a hearing person or authority discriminates against a deaf person due to their hearing. Audism can also occur within the deaf community when, for example, a deaf person devalues another deaf person’s abilities based on their hearing.

Mirko provides more examples of audism that many deaf individuals encounter in their daily lives. One example is being excluded from meetings because they are conducted without a sign language interpreter, under the assumption that it is sufficient for the deaf person to read the meeting notes afterward. Another example is when companies only allow direct calls and not three-way calls, which are necessary when a deaf person calls through a relay service. Many deaf individuals have experienced companies choosing to end the call because of this.

What can be done about the situation and audism? Mirko explains that combating audism requires a collective effort, where anger must not be the driving force. Anger must turn into knowledge. When the deaf community itself has a good understanding of audism and its impact on the deaf individual, it becomes easier to combat audism. This can be done by gathering evidence, supporting each other, and demanding justice.

Mirko concludes by saying that audism cannot be eradicated overnight; instead, it may take generations. But everything must start somewhere, and now we need to take the first steps toward this change.