My name is John A. Hay MBE from Wolverhampton. I shall be wearing two hats at the Deaf Unity conference – the first hat being the recently retired Senior Lecturer of Deaf Studies at the University of Wolverhampton, now the part-time University Ambassador; and the second hat as the Chair of British Deaf History Society.
I will facilitating the workshop on “Deaf History & Education, how it has shaped the future for Deaf Learners and how can well informed access be given to Deaf Learners to transform the Deaf community.”
This workshop will examine how deaf people obtain their education in the historical context since Greek times to the 21st century, witnessed by the rise of the number of deaf young people attending universities. Moreover there will be a discussion on how having education influences the betterment of deaf individuals’ lives; and the transformation of the Deaf community from the days of benevolence and paternalism of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries to the present day of empowerment since the late 20th century.
Learning Deaf History
I started taking an interest in history when I was a junior at Donaldson’s School for the Deaf in Edinburgh. My teacher, Miss E.H. Arthur, regaled us with stories about heroes and heroines such as King Alfred, David Livingstone and Florence Nightingale – as well as villains, such as Guy Fawkes. At the same time, my parents introduced me to a few books about people in history published by Ladybird. I got hooked on reading more about British history.
Acquiring my passion for Deaf History really came by sheer accident when I was employed as an architectural technician with an Edinburgh Corporation. One of the jobs I was allocated was to design an extension to the shop serving residents of the municipal housing estate known as Dumbiedykes. Of course, I got interested in the origin of the street name of Dumbiedykes Road so I got myself into researching and found that it was so named after deaf and dumb children walking and signing on the way to Braidwood’s Academy for the Deaf and Dumb (founded in 1760) on the then unnamed street. The name Braidwood was familiar to me as one of the four School houses at Mary Hare Grammar School for the Deaf where I got my secondary education for seven years; it was so named after
Having accessed local places of research such as the National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh Central Library, the National Gallery of Scotland and others, I began to delve further into the history of the deaf community in Edinburgh. Edinburgh has indeed played an important part in the advancement of the Deaf and hard of hearing communities, thanks to pioneering spirits of visionaries, both deaf and hearing.
Eventually, as a part-time Adult Basic Education tutor, I taught deaf adults Edinburgh Deaf Heritage for three years. I gave a paper on teaching deaf adults local Deaf history at the first-ever Deaf History conference in Gallaudet University, WashingtonDC, USA in 1991.
I feel so privileged to be able to share my research findings with fellow deaf people who are otherwise unaware of the rich tapestry of Deaf history on their doorsteps that have arisen from sources scattered all over the place.
The British Deaf History Society
That is where the British Deaf History Society (BDHS) came into being, in 1993, exactly twenty years ago, when I organised the first workshop for those interested in Deaf History – inviting those who wrote books relating histories of deaf schools.
My field of interest on Deaf History is very wide encompassing many aspects, Edinburgh, Scottish, British and international. I always find it so interesting to learn any new historical developments.
I am presently the Chair of the BDHS and also the co-editor of Deaf History Journal. Right now, I am assisting one of my BDHS colleagues in preparing the record of deaf schools in the UK since 1760 – a truly mammoth task.
From time to time, I am asked to deliver research papers and hold workshops at local, regional, national and international level. On occasions, I am invited to comment on deaf historical issues for BBC’s See Hear and Remark’s programmes.
I strongly believe that every deaf child must know something about the past featuring deaf people to inspire them and to understand the circumstances we deaf people had to face in the dark days of oppression and negative societal attitudes towards deafness. To have deaf heroes and heroines as their role models does certainly echoes the quotation made by the President of Gallaudet University, Dr I King Jordan, ‘We, the deaf, can do anything but hear!’
I am very pleased to see the progress of introducing deaf teachers in educational establishments and also having Deaf Studies as part of the school curriculum in most of deaf schools, now dwindling in numbers unfortunately. I am hoping to see deaf children in the mainstream setting having an opportunity to gain more insight into the Deaf history as part of their own Deaf awareness in order to discover their Deaf identity and also Deaf pride.
The BDHS exists to promote Deaf History through publications, journals and workshops. In a short time of 20 years, the BDHS have issued 50 titles, all written by adherents of Deaf History volunteers. The BDHS has the National Deaf Archives housed in Warrington Deaf Centre as well as the library. As an organisation operated on purely a voluntary basis, the BDHS welcomes any visitor to view archival material on Tuesdays and Thursdays their normal opening hours between 10.00am and 2.30pm.
Anyone is welcome to attend the BDHS workshops and book launches which we organise twice a year. With Deaf History Scotland, the BDHS is jointly hosting the 9th Deaf History International (DHI) Conference in Edinburgh in July 2015 with Deaf Sporting Heritage being the theme.
John A. Hay MBE is a recently retired Senior Lecturer of Deaf Studies at the University of Wolverhampton, and now a part-time Wolverhampton University Ambassador. He is currently the Chair of the British Deaf History Society (BDHS), and works with them to compile and discover the history of deaf people throughout the UK.