Normal Is Overrated

Musings and meanderings on the autistic spectrum

May 1, 2010

Of privilege and auditory processing

Today is Blogging Against Disablism Day. And for today, I wanted to write about a sort of ableism (as we call it here in North America) that’s rather subtle and largely unconscious, but no less problematic.

An important concept in social justice circles is the idea of privilege. For those unacquainted with the concept, perhaps the easiest way to describe it is that by being born into a certain group (race, gender, economic class, etc.), you’ve automatically, even unconsciously, been given an advantage in certain matters as a part of that group. This, of course, even applies to disability: if you’re not disabled, you’re automatically granted advantages that many disabled people will have to work for at best, or may never attain at worst.

I’d write about neurotypical privilege here, since that’s the most obvious case that’d be relevant to my own disabilities, but Bev from Square 8 has already created a neurotypical privilege checklist that’s so good, I don’t think I could ever manage to outdo it. (And besides, I contributed a couple items to it myself!)

However, along with Asperger’s syndrome, I also have auditory processing disorder. It affects pretty much every act of spoken communication I participate in, so it’s not something that can be easily ignored. And I’ve noticed that many people don’t even consider how certain activities can be discriminatory to those of us with abnormal hearing or auditory processing.

I wish I could provide an outright hearing privilege checklist, but that’d be problematic given that I have at least some privilege in that respect myself. My hearing itself is OK; I’m overly sensitive to noises, and I have perfect pitch that’s a blessing for solving the Selenitic Age in Myst but a curse when I’m asked to play on a piano that’s horribly out of tune. 😛 At the same time, because of my auditory processing disorder, I do share many of the same difficulties understanding speech that someone who’s deaf or hard of hearing would have. Nonetheless, it’d be best to refer to this as an auditory processing privilege checklist, not a hearing one.

So, without further ado:

The Normal Auditory Processing Privilege Checklist

  • I can watch first-run movies in any theater and still understand a majority of the dialogue without having to attend a specially scheduled screening with subtitles.
  • I can watch movies on streaming services and comprehend the dialogue with the same ease that I could with a DVD rental.
  • TV shows are equally accessible to me whether I record from TV or watch them online. I could drop my cable TV subscription without losing access to those shows.
  • I can easily carry on conversations with several other people in a bar or restaurant, no matter how noisy the place is.
  • I can easily understand what people say to me on the phone, and do not have to frequently ask for repetition.
  • If I want a smartphone data plan, the minimum required voice plan of 300–400 minutes that must accompany it is not overkill.
  • I can decipher the lyrics for most songs without having to look them up.
  • Rock concerts are at a perfectly reasonable level; I don’t need to stand at the back or remember to bring earplugs.
  • I can understand messages broadcast over PA systems without a lot of difficulty.
  • Lectures are just as easy for me to comprehend without visual feedback such as PowerPoint as they are with visual feedback.

You’ve likely never thought about how many of these experiences aren’t universal, or how these situations might be discriminatory— and that’s precisely the point of this. I see so many posts, for instance, talking about eliminating cable subscriptions and going to online TV viewing; yet most of the cable-only shows I’m interested in, if they are available online in the first place, aren’t captioned in any form.

And that’s just the start. Can anyone think of any other examples of privilege experienced by those without auditory processing disorder? I’m totally open to suggestions; feel free to leave them in the comments!

Filed under: Auditory Processing,Blog Carnival — codeman38 @ 12:35 pm


  1. Thank you for this post. I have some difficulty with pragmatic language and sensory processing, and while I can’t relate to all of what you’ve said (subtitles/lectures), I definitely relate to some of it (rock concerts/conversations in loud places). I also appreciate this post since I recently took a class at my college called “Multicultural Communication”– which, of course, had everything to do with every form of social privilege and social justice except in communication itself.
    If it helps, I can offer these suggestions from personal experience:

    – When exchanging contact information, there is no need to feel socially awkward in asking if email addresses could be exchanged rather than phone numbers.

    – No one asks, “Why don’t you ever talk?” then expects a brilliant or talkative response to this question.

    …On a more positive note, I’d like to add that I completely relate to the part about the Selenitic Age in Myst. ^_^

    Comment by HyperCube — May 1, 2010 @ 2:48 pm

  2. @Hypercube: Oh, gah, yes on the part about exchanging e-mails instead of phone numbers! Or, to a lesser extent, having to ask people if they have a texting plan so you can text instead of having to deal with voice calls. Or being able to give out your number without having to explain that you only respond to texts and usually let voice calls go to voice mail.

    Comment by codeman38 — May 1, 2010 @ 3:10 pm

  3. – I don’t have to demand access to the TV remote, because I can leave my TV set at one medium volume regardless of whether the current scene features dialog or explosions.

    – I do not have to pretend that I am distracted (or daydreaming, or drugged) when I miss a vocal cue in a conversation.

    – I do not have to ask my partner to act as a go-between when I need to gather information in a noisy place, like a government office.

    – I can celebrate potential new business clients instead of dreading them because they will invariably want one or more introductory conference calls before decided to hire me.

    – I can answer the questions of my partner, who is rooting through a closet in the next room looking for something, without having to shout back nonsense such as, “Did you ask if the potato has wings?!” until said partner gets seriously annoyed.

    Okay, that last one may be a bit frivolous, but it gets on my nerves. 😉

    Comment by wtfmi — May 1, 2010 @ 7:34 pm

  4. That is an interesting list. It looks like I might have non-normal auditory processing. (Did you notice that I said “looks” not “sounds” or “feels”? That’s probably significant too.)

    Comment by Quercki — May 1, 2010 @ 8:33 pm

  5. @wtfmi: All of those are good ones. I get seriously annoyed by the fluctuation in the volume of dialogue in TV shows and movies. I hate having to ask about stuff in noisy places. And I utterly dread conference calls!

    @Quercki: Heh, yeah. It’s weird; I often write that I “heard” about something even though I read about it– I guess I’ve just unconsciously made the mental connection that what I read, everyone else hears? Or something…

    Comment by codeman38 — May 1, 2010 @ 8:35 pm

  6. If information is primarily presented in an auditory form (such as a podcast,) I do not have to wait for someone to put it in an alternate form that’s accessible to me (such as a transcript).

    (I am way behind on my transcripts lately.)

    Comment by Tera — May 2, 2010 @ 11:22 am

  7. @Tera: How the heck did I not mention that one? Seriously? 🙂

    Comment by codeman38 — May 2, 2010 @ 11:29 am

  8. I have a modification to “Rock concerts are at a perfectly reasonable level; I don’t need to stand at the back or remember to bring earplugs.”

    When attending a small musical or theatrical performance, I do not have to be concerned about where I sit, because I know the volume will be appropriate in all spaces and I do not need to be concerned about lip-reading.

    Comment by Ali — May 2, 2010 @ 4:39 pm

  9. Here’s a few from my experience:

    I do not have to experience glares or condescending looks from acquaintance because I’ve asked them to repeat important information too many times.

    i do not have to pretend to have heard and understood what someone else has said in certain circumstances for fear of negative consequences.

    I can usually understand what a server is saying to me and can hear the list of specials at a restaurant.

    I do not have to forgo evening plans because a fire alarm or unexpected meeting has left me without the mental reserves to complete those activities.

    Comment by meep — May 2, 2010 @ 6:38 pm

  10. All of these, so much! Especially transcripts – can’t id that much with most of the video ones because I can’t watch video.


    – I do not regularly encounter situations that cause me physical pain because of the noise level

    – When there is a business or person I need to contact, I can assume I can do so in a way I can tolerate

    – I do not need to fear social recrimination because I cannot partake in many standard forms of socialisation due to my hearing (bloody going to the pub!)

    Comment by Kaz — May 2, 2010 @ 6:59 pm

  11. @Ali: Ooh, yes. That one’s always a big one for me… have to be close enough to see them, but far away enough not to be blown away like the guy in the old Maxell commercials. 🙂

    @meep: Oh, gah, I hate the restaurant specials thing; conversely, I love when restaurants just have the specials of the day on a board or a piece of paper! And I’m all too familiar with smiling and nodding to convince people I understood something I didn’t. And I know that all too well about being so exhausted by a meeting that the rest of my plans went by the wayside.

    @Kaz: That last one… grr, I know that one far too well. I think I may have actually lost connections with some people because I couldn’t deal with going to their social activities. And as for your penultimate one, why do so many places only offer telephone as a means of contact, seriously?

    Comment by codeman38 — May 2, 2010 @ 7:05 pm

  12. Ooh, I don’t believe I forgot the smile and nod and hope you can figure it out later thing. Thanks, meep!

    And codeman38, thanks for posting this. Threads like this are close to my heart because it wasn’t that long ago that I thought everyone had the same relationship to noise and speech that I do, and that they were just better with dealing with it than I am.

    Comment by wtfmi — May 2, 2010 @ 8:30 pm

  13. Thank you for this one. I’ve found a bunch of workarounds (lip reading, context clues/body language, subtitles, etc), but I’m still constantly having to explain to my friends over and over why I don’t listen their podcasts. No one really seems to get it.

    Also, wtfmi – As I read your potato/wings comment, I had almost the exact same conversation with my wife, which was awesome timing. And you know, if nothing else, auditory processing disorder does sometimes make the world sound much more interesting.

    Comment by Crippled Carny — May 2, 2010 @ 8:37 pm

  14. Oh what great idea!
    I’m so going to bookmark it.

    I think the social aspects, (i.e. how people *treat* you as a result) that a few readers mentioned would make a great addition to that list.

    (Sorry I’m commenting a bit late, there are so many awesome BADD posts to read.)

    Comment by Kowalski — May 2, 2010 @ 10:03 pm

  15. Auditory processing is one of my issues, but I’ve had a lot less trouble with TV (I suggest wearing headphones when possible, as it blocks out background noise–though, it depends on the headphones). I would also put movie theaters up there with rock concerts. All the ones I go to are very, very loud–which is only worsened by all the little noises that surround me that I cannot block out. As far as rock concerts, I’ve been to one. No amount of love of music will make me attend another.

    Adding to the list:
    –I can understand terms of service without asking someone to “put in writing” before making a decision.
    –I can listen to a voice mail message once and understand the content of the message without having to play it back three or more times.
    –I can understand people’s names and repeat the name without having to ask someone to spell it out.
    –I can understand driving directions delivered orally without excessive pointing or having them put in writing. (Depending on whether spacial awareness issues exist separately.)
    –Someone can get my attention easily (and keep it) by speaking to me.

    Comment by Stephanie — May 2, 2010 @ 11:27 pm

  16. There’s the privilege of being able to understand and enjoy people when their tones become loud and expressive, and not getting a huge headache from the noise produced by this “normal” way of socializing and talking. Also, the privilege of not being accused of exaggerating or making things up when you have a stress reaction to this,

    Comment by Gabriela — May 3, 2010 @ 1:47 am

  17. It’s interesting how one gets some symptoms, but not others.

    I’ve got APD and all the “I can’t understand what you’re saying” stuff, but not hyperacusis. So I’m perfectly happy sitting right next to a speaker at a rock concert.

    Some of my additions would be:

    * I can phone the dentist to make an appointment; I don’t have to drag my butt down there to do it in person.
    * When needing to book my car in for repairs I can do it immediately, I don’t have to wait a week for someone to reply to my Email.

    Comment by Lisa — May 3, 2010 @ 8:49 am

  18. I think you – and your commenters – made some great points about how disability is not just having an impairment or an experience outside of the ‘norm’, but the social repercussions for having them as well. I think of all the times someone rolls their eyes when I ask them to repeat something, or turn the volume down, or shut the radio off in the car. That’s an awful lot of eye rolling, which I am expected to take without comment. (And my own auditory issues are … unclear, so there’s that whole ‘just because you don’t LIKE the music loud doesn’t mean I need to take that into account’ factor too, as if it were just a personal preference that can be discarded at the other person’s whim.)

    Comment by NTE — May 3, 2010 @ 11:47 am

  19. * I can carry on a conversation in a room where the television is on, or where music is playing.

    * I can understand automated phone menus and will be able to navigate them correctly and without undue stress.

    * I generally speak at the same speed and volume as everyone else, and if I am speaking louder or faster for some reason, I can tell that I’m doing it.

    * If I’m talking to Person A and Person B says something (not necessarily at the same time), I can switch back and forth between them and don’t end up utterly confused and unable to understand a word either says.

    Comment by Elettaria — May 4, 2010 @ 4:30 pm

  20. Aha, another one.

    * If I’m doing something while someone is talking to me, such as cooking, it won’t cause me to stop in total confusion. (I accidentally typed this as “doing someone” when writing a list for the doctor years ago and didn’t realise until my best friend was reading the list and hooted with laughter.)

    * I can go to a university lecture, understand what is being said, take notes, not get unduly stressed or exhausted, and afterwards will have a pretty good memory of what was said.

    * I have no objections to background music or sound effects during dialogue in a film. (We reckon this is why I’m the only person I know who gets thoroughly lost during action films: all the explosions and such do my head in.)

    * I am able to go shopping without being reduced to jelly within five minutes by the music playing in the shop.

    * I don’t have peculiar preferences about where I sit in a room based on its acoustics and where the other speakers are.

    Comment by Elettaria — May 4, 2010 @ 4:38 pm

  21. By “one”, I meant “five” last time, but I think this is just one. OK, four.

    * When watching a film with someone, I don’t drive them dotty by continuously asking them what is happening or what someone just said. (My APD’s not as bad as Codeman38’s, I don’t use subtitles, and in fact I actually find they do my head in because the text on the screen doesn’t appear at the same time as the text that’s spoken.)

    * Audiobooks are always comprehensible, I don’t need to fuss about accent or reading style. (Again, milder APD here – I imagine if it was worse I wouldn’t be able to cope with audiobooks at all. I still can’t understand them if they’re not too well read, though.)

    * Text read by a computer-generated voice is comprehensible to me.

    * If I fail to understand what someone has said, or switch off completely, I register it immediately rather than a minute later.

    Comment by Elettaria — May 4, 2010 @ 4:44 pm

  22. […] is Overrated: Of Privilege and Auditory Processing The Normal Auditory Processing Privilege […]

    Pingback by Danine Spencer » Best of BADD (Blogging Against Disableism) — May 5, 2010 @ 3:27 pm

  23. For me having auditory processing disorder is a bit like the radio, a little here, a little there. I guess you could say I have
    “fade outs”. That is why I was called “space cadet” when young. I get too ashamed to ask people to repeat. I lose all sense of
    meaning as words drone on. This happens both with stress and without. I sometimes have fade outs especially bad where my sight fades as well. The funny thing is that smell and taste can bring me back!

    Comment by Kierbutterfly — May 8, 2010 @ 10:15 pm

  24. […] Normal Is Overrated * Of privilege and auditory processing […]

    Pingback by Just the links: more stuff I’ve been reading 09/06/10 « Urocyon's Meanderings — June 9, 2010 @ 11:08 am

  25. Bit late but a few points to add.

    * I can handle websites with background music or flash with background sounds, or they’re merely an annoyance for me.

    * I can work and do my job well without concern for the levels and variety of auditory sounds in my work environment.

    * I do not have to be concerned with the perspectives of my coworkers and employers for being impacted by the auditory sounds in my work environment.

    * I can talk with professionals and not be concerned with whether or not I understood all of the important information.

    * I do not need the assistance of another individual to talk with professionals about important information should I not have access to a textual log of the conversation.

    * Accents and dialects do not have a major impact on whether or not I understand a person when they’re talking to me.

    * Spoken words do not suddenly sound like gibberish or a collection of various different languages to me. (This one’s especially hard for me, frequently I can’t understand English because it doesn’t even sound like English to me, it sounds like something else)

    Comment by Static Nonsense — September 15, 2010 @ 1:37 pm

  26. Coming in late via FWD. Three more for the list, from someone who suspects they have mild – medium AP problems.

    * I can play various computer or console games right out of the box, without having to chase about to find the hidden setting which turns on the subtitles (or without having to chase about and discover there isn’t one – thank you, “Assassin’s Creed” developers, for that one).
    * Missing a lecture isn’t a big deal, because I can always pick up the audio later.
    * Having a few irritating types talking through a lecture isn’t going to distract me to the point where I would have been better off not attending.

    My auditory processing difficulties tend to revolve around speech processing, and a lack of prioritisation of same – or in other words, I have trouble picking out which of the sounds I’m hearing I’m supposed to be listening to. So any situation with cross-talk, or multiple audio inputs, one of which is speech, is going to stress my processing capabilities. Large crowds and loud rooms are a definite no-no, which means I’ve been forced to give up on eating at Italian restaurants (Australian decorators inevitably decorate Italian restaurants in lots of hard surfaces, which means any noise is going to be too much for me).

    Comment by Meg Thornton — September 15, 2010 @ 8:00 pm

  27. A spammer deleted the linked lists, I re-added the list from the google cache but not sure how to link them back.

    Comment by frugalfreak — November 20, 2010 @ 12:06 am

  28. sorry, the subtitled streaming on netflix on the wiki

    Comment by frugalfreak — November 20, 2010 @ 12:07 am

  29. @frugalfreak: Sorry… I probably need to put spam protection on the wiki. I should be able to restore them from the changelogs in the future, though.

    Edit: I’ve added a simple text captcha that should be enough to throw off the most primitive spammers. (I’d have used an image except for the hypocrisy of using an inaccessible CAPTCHA on a wiki related to accessibility!) I might also add the Bad Behavior plugin at some point.

    Comment by codeman38 — November 20, 2010 @ 12:12 am

  30. […] Of privilege and auditory processing ( […]

    Pingback by | Brain and Head Health — May 26, 2011 @ 4:42 am

  31. Going to a lecture and not having to be concerned about seeing the face of the lecturer in order to understand the lecture… especially in darkened lecture halls with a dim light on the speaker.

    Comment by b3l — November 7, 2011 @ 6:54 pm

  32. Here’s two:
    Not having to constantly explain to people tat the reason you’re staring at their lips is because you are trying to speechread, and not because you think they have something stuck to their face.

    Not having to ask people with mustaches to repeat themselves ad nauseum, because they are impossible to speechread.

    Comment by Eves — February 11, 2012 @ 12:46 pm

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