Brian Gale, Director of Policy and Campaigns
It’s UK Disability History Month so I thought I’d take the opportunity to outline key events in the history of the National Deaf Children’s Society. Over the past 75 years, tremendous progress has been made in attitudes towards deafness. However, in writing this blog I couldn’t help but think there is still a remarkable similarity between the issues faced by deaf children of the 20th Century and today.
On the 15th December 1944 a group of parents of deaf children met in London because they were concerned over the impact of the Education Act 1944 on their children’s education. They formed the Society of St John of Beverley (who became the patron saint of the “deaf and dumb” in the eleventh century) whose aim was to “to further provision of full modern education for all deaf children in England as originally accorded to hearing children”. After a short while it changed its name to the Deaf Children’s Society (DCS).
From these small beginnings developed the National Deaf Children’s Society, serving the UK as well as supporting deaf children in Asia, Africa and South America. Below I have highlighted some key events in our history between 1944 and 1964.
David Jackson identified as deaf at the age of 6 months. David said his mother tried to cure it by placing brown paper soaked in vinegar on his ears and serving him a diet of fish and carrots. David said “people would try anything in those days”.
DCS establishes a Teacher of the Deaf training bursary scheme and starts a campaign for the training of as many teachers as possible.
DCS proposes that public health services should conduct hearing tests on children at an early age to ensure early identification and support. This campaign was finally won in 2006 when new born hearing screening was fully rolled out across the UK.
DCS publishes its first information leaflet for parents “If your child is deaf” and sets up courses for parents
DCS lobbies the Department for Education to ensure teachers receive a salary while training to be Teachers of the Deaf.
DCS links with groups in Glasgow and the Midlands and then one in the NW of England. Over the next 10 years more and more parent groups are established throughout the UK and establish links with the DCS.
DCS produces a circular on research suggesting a link between German measles in pregnant women and deafness in babies.
The Minster for Education agrees to fund the training of Teachers of the Deaf. The Society’s first campaign win!
At this time around 450 deaf children in London were out of school and in need of a school place.
DCS takes up the case of a young deaf girl who spent years in a mental health institution before she was found to be deaf and not “disturbed”. DCS challenged the way the Ministry of Health identified children with a “mental deficiency”.
DCS suggests the shortage of school places for deaf children could be alleviated by attaching a class for deaf children to a grammar school. The Friends School in Saffron Walden agreed to be a pilot making the concept of hearing impairment units (specialist classrooms for deaf children attached to mainstream schools) a reality.
The DCS commences evening courses for parents lasting 6 weeks on topics including supporting deaf children to read and develop speech and language.
The first quarterly newsletter for parents was produced. It continues over 50 years later in the form of NDCS’s Families Magazine.
DCS make access to technical training a priority as a step to work. A pilot is established with Regent Street Polytechnic for 4 deaf students.
DCS presses the Ministry of Labour to give disability resettlement officers and youth employment officers full information on the employment of deaf young people.
DCS offers holiday weeks for families in caravans which were very popular.
DCS is concerned about the absence of books for deaf children. It offered £50 to authors to write books and guaranteed the publisher £500 to ensure publication.
Ann William’s daughter was diagnosed as being deaf. Ann said she was told by the consultant that her daughter would never amount to anything and would need to be sent away to a special school which Ann refused to do. She was not given any information on any communication method apart from speech so the family had no choice.
First debate on the Education of Deaf Children in the House of Commons opened by Michael Stewart, Labour MP for Fulham.
The quarterly newsletter transformed into a magazine for members called “Talk”. 12,000 copies are distributed to families.
The society offers £25 grants to parents to help them pay for their children’s hearing aids.
Parent groups from all over the country meet and form the National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS). They challenge the rigid approach to teaching methods for deaf children and reject the prevailing notion that a child who doesn’t speak is a failure: “A deaf child with no means of communication at all reflects a lack of flexibility of our education provision. Any method of teaching deaf children must ensure that each deaf child is given a means of communication”
NDCS establishes the Commonwealth Society to look into the welfare of deaf children outside the UK. Its first task was to raise funds.
NDCS establishes the Deaf Children’s League of Service, proving volunteering opportunities for deaf children, encouraging them to be self-reliant and help others such as old people.
NDCS responds to equipment requests and loans 38 Auditory Training Units to teachers to help children use their residual hearing. NDCS hoped the loans would convince local authorities to provide the equipment.
NDCS also provides 8 buses for use by local parent groups for deaf children’s excursions. By 1967 there were 17 buses on long term loan. It included one for the Manchester University Survey Team which was conducting research into the social adjustment of deaf teenagers.
250,000 copies of ‘What do you know about deafness’ were circulated as part of a deaf awareness campaign featured in newspapers, radio and TV.
NDCS’s campaign against the use of the term “deaf and dumb” meets with a measure of success when the Ministry of Health stops using the term “dumb”.
The Queen and Queen mother attend NDCS’s 20th birthday party (a reception at the Mansion House) joined by members of all 29 regional parent groups across the UK.
What happens next?
For what happened next read my blog on 1964 to 1984 to be published next week.