Paul Stemman

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History of Deaf organisations

Deaf organisations in the UK have a long history. Local Deaf groups have, traditionally, been very important centres for Deaf people. Deaf clubs have provided many social activities and an opportunity for Deaf people to get together as a community.


Often from these local groups, some larger organisations have developed. Below is a brief history of some of the larger Deaf organisations.


The National Bureau for Promoting the General Welfare of Deaf People was founded in 1911 by Leo Bonn, a deaf merchant banker. In 1924 this became the National Institute for the Deaf. In 1961 the Queen agreed to the organisation being called the Royal National Institute for the Deaf. The name was changed again in 1992 to the Royal National Institute for Deaf People. RNID website.


British Deaf Association

Originally formed in 1890, by Francis Maginn, to protect sign language and the Deaf community. This followed directly from the Milan Congress of 1880. The Congress is a key event in Deaf history. The Congress - which excluded Deaf people - decided that the oralist method was the only approach that should be used in schools. Sign languages would not be allowed. A Royal Commission report followed in 1889 which established the Pure Oral System being established. The BDA campaigned against this for many years - and continues to do so. It was not until the 1970s that some schools began to look again at encouraging sign language.


The BDA remains a Deaf-led members organisation. Campaigning for the recognition of sign language remains a main thrust of their work. BDA website.


Royal Association for Deaf people (RAD)

What we now know as the Royal Association for Deaf people has a long and interesting history. Originally established in 1841, the organisation was called the 'Institution of providing Employment, Relief and Religious Instruction for the Adult Deaf and Dumb'. The organisation had a very strong religious leaning, and was concerned about the spiritual welfare of deaf people in London. There was also an early emphasis on training deaf people so they could escape the workhouse and learn a trade (e.g. bookbinding and shoemaking).


The organisation was involved in the campaign by some deaf people to establish a church where the service was made in sign language. There were concerns that this would lead to a separatism, but the church proved popular. In 1876 the charity received royal patronage and became the 'The Royal Association in Aid of the Deaf and Dumb'. The name changed again in 1986 to the 'Royal Association in aid of Deaf people'. The charity retains a strong base of Deaf clubs across London and the South East. RAD website.



The United Kingdom Council on Deafness

UKCoD is an umbrealla organisation representing many deaf organisations from across the country. It was founded in 1993 with 33 member organisations, and continues to lobby on behalf of all member organisations. UKCoD website.