Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Am I an Audist?

Here is an ASL version of this post on YouTube:

At the start of Winter break, I put on my To Do list to write a blog reflecting on 2015. It was a spectacular year professionally for me. However, when I sat down to start writing, something else came out of me...

I am in my 21st year as a Teacher of the Deaf and consider myself an ally and advocate to the Deaf community and Deaf education. I've been signing since I took my first ASL course in 1990 and am even a nationally certified sign language interpreter. I strongly believe in bilingual ASL/English education and am an opponent of simultaneous communication - aka Sim-Com (talking and signing at the same time). When I taught in a Deaf classroom it was very clear to my students: one either signs or speaks, but not both. I empowered my students to make their own communication choices. If they chose to speak in a group setting, then either I would sign the message to the other students or ask the student to then restate it in ASL for equal access to classmates. I've read countless studies about the ill effects of using Sim-Com and preach against it to whomever will listen. I know how despicable it is to communicate to a hearing person in spoken English if a Deaf person is present.


Why is it that in the last few years, after leaving the classroom to become an itinerant teacher, I find myself occasionally Sim-Comming around Deaf children and adults? Why is it if I engage in a conversation with a hearing person who knows ASL with a Deaf person present, we somehow end up talking while signing? It's not consciously intentional - we just slip into it.

I have never considered myself an Audist, but after reflection, I as a hearing person, regardless of what I know is right in every fiber of my being, do have audist tendencies.

Audism was coined by Tom Humphries in his 1977 dissertation: "The notion that one is superior based on one’s ability to hear or behave in the manner of one who hears." In essence, it is discrimination against people who are Deaf and hard of hearing. It can also be connected to linguicism - that one language is superior to another.

By using Sim-Com in front of a Deaf person, one is discriminating against that person by insinuating that ASL alone is not a language of equal value to English. It also does not take into account the thoughts and feelings of the Deaf person who is excluded in the conversations simply because the hearing people choose to Sim-Com, or to solely speak.

Why in the world would I do this???? It’s easy to say that I just follow what the other hearing person does, but sometimes it’s me who starts it. Regardless, I know it has to stop!

A few weeks ago after hitting myself in the head a few times, I came to the realization that I indeed have been portraying audist behavior. I made a decision to do whatever I can to stop myself from continuing this blatant discrimination. I attended a Christmas party at the Deaf classroom where I used to teach. I appreciate that the new teacher and staff continue to include me in their parties and secret Santa exchanges. Before I entered the classroom, I made a promise to myself that I would only use ASL the entire time I was there. I knew the Deaf students and the Deaf teacher assistant would be there, and I wanted to be sure I respected them the entire time I was there.

A few days later, I messaged the Deaf assistant and apologized to her for all the times I have visited the classroom and Sim-Commed or spoke to the teacher in her and the students' presence. I told her about my reflection and resolution to go back to doing what I know is right.

Sim-Com has been ingrained in the Deaf education system for decades. Despite all the research demonstrating how it negatively impacts the education of Deaf and hard of hearing children, it refuses to go away. There are protests and movements happening right now across the U.S. advocating for change in how Deaf children are educated, included how they are taught communicatively.

I must make clear, I am not an opponent of Deaf and hard of hearing children learning to speak. If they have the capability, they should be given the opportunity. I teach several students who speak. What I am saying is by combining and using 2 languages at the same time results in incomplete messages in both languages and ultimately hurts the development of these children.

I am taking a stance to never again Sim-Com. If I slip, please call me out on it.

Will you join me?

UPDATE - 1/11/16

I recently posted this on FaceBook and wanted to include it here.

Thank you to everyone who has read and/or shared by recent blog post "Am I an Audist?" I wrote this as a way to openly self-reflect on the practices I have been using and my vow to change. I hoped it would make people think and maybe spark some discussion. I had no intentions of almost 1,000 people reading it and it being shared widely. People have been candid to comment on the post itself, on FaceBook and on Twitter. I appreciate everyone for their thoughts. It's important to note that deaf and hard of hearing adults and children communicate in a variety of ways; some even choose to Sim-Com themselves. That is their right in which they are empowered to do so. I would never tell an adult or a child he/she must Sim-Com. And there are some adults who want the hearing signer to Sim-Com or at least mouth English. That, again, is their right. I have some hypotheses as to why this is so, but I'll keep that in my mind and not in writing. However, as an educator, for me to Sim-Com to another hearing adult in front of DHH adults and children is, in my opinion, morally wrong, as I stated in my post. The same is true if I communicate directly to DHH children using Sim-Com. It is not fair to them if I give them 2 incomplete languages at the same time. How can we expect DHH children to develop fluency in either language if we do not model to them true language form in either ASL or English? Finally, I want to applaud every parent who is learning to sign for their signing deaf children. It is not easy to learn a second language as an adult, and having to learn it for the sake of their child puts more urgency on the matter. These parents are doing what they know is best - providing language to their children. As they are learning, if they Sim-Com, that's OK in my book. They deserve to be excused from any criticism surrounding Sim-Com. They are doing their best for their children and are more often than not, learning as their children learn. Praise them for their efforts, never condone them for talking while signing. We just need more parents signing to their kids!

Thank you!


  1. Hi Heidi, I found you on Twitter... I just wanted to say that I was once strongly against Sim-Com practice, until I began to meet Deaf individuals who communicate this way due to their oral backgrounds. I remember feeling very uncomfortable when other interpreters would Sim-Com to me. I would prefer to either speak or sign-voice off! However, I think it is good to consider the Deaf person's communication preferences. You are right that it's a very prevalent practice in Deaf schools, and that is troubling. Glad you are taking a stand against oppressive language practices! -@mgrayart

  2. Hi Meridith! I'm so glad you found me. I love expanding my professional learning network! Yes, you are right that some Deaf adults do Sim-Com. That is their communication right - to choose how they wish to communicate. What I find fascinating, through talking to my Deaf friends who do that, they mostly Sim-Com when around hearing people, even those who are fluent signers, but will just use ASL with other Deaf people. Codeswitching is a prominent feature of language users and their right. However, when we, hearing people, use Sim-Com around Deaf adults or children, we are depriving them of any full accessible language; both languages fail. We do an injustice to children who are trying to form a language by not allowing them to see or hear a complete language. If my post makes at least one person think and attempt to change their ways, then sharing my self-reflection publicly is well worth it. It's the only way we can begin to change Deaf education - one person at a time.

    1. Hi My name is James I am one of those Deaf adults who do both oral and sign, and it is interesting how your perspective toward, you say Sim-Com I say Total-communication. I grew up learning both speech and signing at the same time. There are times the interpreter if I am in a meeting would ask me if I am voicing or signing, so it is to speak or sign that way I don't confuse the interpreter or mess up the meeting with communicating among my peers or co-workers. As a deaf person it is hard to not do that and I have also experience at work where I have half the staff are hearing and half are deaf and it happens a lot me talking to one of the hearing staff while my coworker is missing out and she has called me out on it and I asked her to keep calling me out on it so I speak less and sign more now and with my job as a Deaf Mentor I am not allowed to use my voice during my home visit. As I am teaching the family to sign and learn about our culture and history sometimes it is hard and I have learn to use other tools to communicate with them. Recently the past week I during reading week to the Deaf and hard of hearing class I would give the class options or sign only or total- communication talking and signing at the same time, most want sign and one school was both because of the majority of the call was hard of hearing and wanted both it was a good experience for me. I would like to thank you for expressing your opinion on that and I would be oppressing my own language, to my self and others it is interesting to hear that hearing teachers feel that way as well it just never cross my mine to see it in that perspective, again thanks

  3. Thank you, Heidi, well said! Speaking English and signing ASL simultaneously is always impossible. Any time if I watch a hearing person doing Sim-Comm, I notice that speaking gives out more words than signing words. So, it would be unfair to deaf listener to battle in their mind and wonder what Hearing talks about. Honestly, I don't feel comfortable watching like that.
    Thank you, Heidi for sharing your concern.

  4. We're never too old to learn something new!!
    I started out using TC (Total Communication) in 1973 when I started working at the Fla. School for the Deaf. I was given a card with the ABCs on it and I learned sign from the students. Ha, how things have changed!!!
    To this date -- I have not heard of Sim-Com until I read your blog.
    I moved to Atlanta, GA and our county has a very large D/HH population. In my D/HH small group classes in a public school - we always used sign and voice. We used SEE to teach reading and Lang. Arts, but used TC/ASL to chit chat with the students and among themselves. By 4th and 5th grade - my students are excellent lip readers and could communicate with the hearing students for all their classes (PE, computer lab, art, lunch, field trips, recess) with them. Then used their sign with each other.
    I left the classroom and now serve as an Itinerant in the same county. Sadly I do not use sign since the D/HH students that I serve are in the general ed. classroom and all are doing wonderfully well! With the use of CIs and using FM Technology -our students are doing great!!!
    I have had only one student who did not use her voice when she was out of the classroom. But she was very comfortable to use her voice in the small group classroom with her peers and using signs.
    It is amazingly remarkable how hearing assistive technology has improved over the years and makes it possible for the D/HH student to function comfortably in the general ed. classroom.

  5. i would not say ingrained about sim-com. it is tendency to fudge languages. it happens to all languages among hearing too. they came up with formality as an excuse to their 'lazy' behavior. that is audism effort,if not, that is insensitivity.