The BDA conference was an opportunity to reflect on the association’s achievements over the last 125 years and how its founding resolution to protest the ban on sign language in education remains as relevant as ever today, Director of Campaigns and Communications David Buxton writes.
Around 150 BDA members and supporters gathered in London on a cold Saturday in February for the 2016 Conference and AGM. The venue was the Amnesty International Centre in the heart of old London near Old Street. As they arrived they couldn’t fail to have been inspired by Amnesty posters promoting human rights and free speech, central themes throughout the history of the BDA.
Murray Holmes BEM, BDA’s Vice President, opened his keynote speech by reading out the British Deaf and Dumb Association’s (as the BDDA was known as until 1971) only founding resolution: “Determination to indignantly protest against the prohibition of the use of finger and sign language in the education of deaf children.” Murray went on to say, “125 years on, we still see deaf children deprived of a basic human right to use BSL freely at home and in school.”
He said the BDA had come close to achieving a major breakthrough on that original resolution during the 1980s when BATOD and key politicians initially approved a report which stated that the “oralist only” method of educating deaf children had failed. They had agreed there was a need for some deaf children to be educated by the combined method. But sadly the introduction of a separate report by Baroness Warnock, urging that deaf children should be mainstreamed, took precedence resulting in a large number of deaf schools closing down.
The audience were urged to return to that original resolution and campaign again for another Conrad report (published in the 1970s, the Conrad report identified low literacy rates among deaf school-leavers which raised questions about oralism) or even a royal commission for deaf education.
Murray also talked about the many unsung achievements of the BDDA/BDA over the last 125 years. He told the audience that in 1924 the BDDA had helped rescue the National Institute for the Deaf (NID, now Action on Hearing Loss) when they were on the verge of collapse. In 1933, the BDDA successfully fought to win deaf drivers third party insurance. Also many members seemed unaware of the role the BDA played in the setting up of CACDP (now Signature) and the European Union of the Deaf.
BDA Deaf Heritage Project assistant Lisanne Holly delivered a presentation entitled From the Skip to the Premiere. The story of the old BDA film reels discovered in a building skip which, with the help of a Heritage Lottery grant, led to the launch of the inspirational SHARE: DEAF ARCHIVE website bringing together a vast collection of rarely seen films of deaf people from the 1930s onwards and also some old photos from the 1890s.
Rescued and preserved forever are early films in sign language, the Princess of Wales signing at conference, footage of the BDDA dropping “Dumb” in 1971, various international deaf sports events and the famous Leslie Edwards reporting in BSL during the 1930s.
Lisanne also explained that many more old deaf films and photos had been donated to the BDA since the project began. A 70-minute film utilising the archive entitled Power
in Our Hands is currently being shown in cinemas.
Following the mid-morning break, the BDA 125 Years Pictorial History Book was officially launched with a short video. The book was well received with a queue of people demanding the four authors sign their book.
It was an uplifting morning enjoyed by all on the theme of “Building our legacy for the future”.
ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING
Dr Terry Riley OBE, the Chair of the Association, opened the AGM in the middle of the BDA’s 125th year, revealing what the BDA had achieved during the year of 2014-15.
The Chair asked the Trustees to present the Chair’s report, as he felt this was a a report from the whole board.
The Company Secretary presented the BDA’s Audited Accounts showing the BDA having another successful year, resulting in a very small deficit.
The next BDA Members’ Conference and AGM will be held in York on Saturday 28 January 2017.
The BDA was delighted to present the Francis Maginn Award to two deaf people who have served the Deaf community in the past few years. They are: Lilian Lawson OBE, for her amazing dedication as a public servant to the Deaf community in senior roles
with the BDA, RNID and SCoD and her successful work leading the campaign for a BSL (Scotland) Act and
Murray Holmes BEM, for his dedication to the BDA over many decades, including taking the baton as the Chair from Jock Young OBE and appointing the first Deaf Chief Executive.
Agnes Dyab, former BDA vice chair, received the BDA Certificate of Merit went for her dedication to Deaf community work in the Greater London area and her Sign Language teaching work. While not there to accept the same certificate in person, Sarla Meisuria also received one for her commitment to promoting Deaf BAME work in the Greater London area and for her role as Chair of GLDA for three years.
A BDA Chair’s Award went to Gloria Pullen for her amazing dedication to the local Deaf community in Nottinghamshire, especially pressing on local public authorities to sign up to the BDA’s BSL Charter.
The British Deaf History Society also received a BDA Chair’s Award for their work on the unique A Pictorial History of the British Deaf Association.
The BDA Chair’s Award Certificate was presented to the four BDHS volunteers who compiled the book: (from left to right) Ian Urquhart, Ian Depledge, Diane Webb, book project coordinator and Alan Murray MBE.