The world is hearing-centric, which means the majority relies on sounds and speech. Now, there are approximately 70 million deaf and hard of hearing people around the world. Approximately 90% of deaf and hard of hearing people are born to hearing parents. The majority of these parents have never met a deaf or hard of hearing person before, which means they’re thrown a new curveball when their baby is diagnosed with a hearing loss. Understandably so, they panic. They do not have a lived experience as a deaf/hard of hearing person. Medical professionals are not exactly helpful in this matter; instead, they tell the parents that cochlear implants will allow their deaf child to be normal and to be able to speak, and that sign language should not be encouraged as it would hinder their language development.
That, my friends, is the beginning of audism a deaf/hard of hearing person will experience from Day One on this planet.
Alex Jones of Ai-Media eloquently explains the meaning of audism in his vlog (it’s captioned if you don’t know Auslan):
I’ve experienced audism from the moment I was diagnosed with bilateral profound deafness, although the earliest memory of audism I experienced was probably at the age of 4 or 5. I’ve lost count of how many times my mum, siblings and relatives have said “I’ll tell you later” when I asked them what they were talking about. So. Many. Times. It’s incredibly frustrating; I’m sure I’ve thrown a tantrum or 3 because of my frustrations at being excluded.
A couple of years ago, I was having dinner with my paternal relatives and my aunty noticed that I was quiet, so she asked me why. I said that if I asked and I would get the same response I had gotten from many other people. I was surprised when she said “Just fucking butt in. It’s what we do. We don’t want to leave you out, so tell us to interpret for you”. Ever since then, when I catch up with them, I butt in like there’s no tomorrow and I’m now the last person to finish my dinner. It’s great, but there’s few times I feel like I’ve butted in too many times, but they have told me not to worry. To this day, I still don’t know how they encouraged me to butt in, but apparently it’s a Beaver trait to do so 😉
However, my entire family have been incredible. They’ve all learnt sign language so I am able to communicate with them. Despite being able to sign with my fam bam, I still experience audism — especially if a big family thing is happening. There’s so much talking, and I don’t bother butting in. It’s a good type of audism, if I have to say, but it does get frustrating after so long.
After 18 odd years of spending Christmas with family members, I made the decision that I would spend the festive season with like-minded people, especially if they are as fluent in Auslan as I am. As a kid, Christmas was all about presents, homemade waterslides, backyard cricket, food, cousins, and naps. It’s a lot different now. I love spending Christmas with my friends — I find I have a lot more fun and that I enjoy Christmas more as an adult.
Professionals have challenged my mum’s decision to allow me to sign. They all told her that signing would hinder my language development, as they would for many other parents of deaf children. They tried to push her into sending me to a private speech therapist. She gave them two same excuses: “I don’t have a driver’s license, and speech therapy lessons are way out of my budget” over and over until they stopped asking. I received speech therapy at school, but it was very limited and I was taken out of class for at least 2 hours per week to focus on developing my speech skills. I’ll be honest here — my speech skills aren’t on par, but I’m happy with what I have.
Audism often occurs at school – mainly outside the classroom. Many deaf children who prefer Auslan are unable to participate in extracurricular activities such as debating competitions because their school have constantly said they do not have the funds to provide an interpreter. God knows how many opportunities I’ve missed out on because of this. I was invited to be a part of the school debate team when I was in Year 11, but I had to pull out because the school said they couldn’t afford to get an interpreter. This was rather disappointing, as you can imagine.
However, deaf/hard of hearing kids will be able to participate in their chosen extracurricular activities outside school hours with funds from the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) paying for Auslan interpreters. This will change lives of so many deaf/hard of hearing children across Australia.
Audism mainly occurs because people do not have the lived experience as a deaf/hard of hearing person. They don’t understand what it’s like to be deaf. They don’t understand what it’s like living in a hearing-centric world. They don’t understand what it’s like encountering barriers on a daily basis.
Parents of deaf children are often faced with thousands of questions, and they think they’re doing the right in the best interests of their child, which is understandable. But…they need to keep an open mind. They need to be prepared for the day that their deaf child begins to explore their identity. They need to be prepared for the day their deaf child decides they want to embrace sign language after growing up orally.
The best thing you can do for your deaf child is to interact with other deaf people. Listen to our stories. Heed our advice based on our experiences from navigating through life as a deaf person. Allow us to become role models for your deaf child. Keep an open mind. Give your deaf child all options on the table.
Most importantly, teach your deaf child resilience so they can navigate through an audist and hearing-centric world. Resilience allows us to become empowered and to be able to advocate for ourselves. Think of resilience as a superpower — they will be able to use that to break down numerous barriers for the rest of their lives.
I think I’ve said enough for now…I could go on and on all day, but I’ll save you from reading a novel 😉
Over and out,