About the author - Dr. Paddy Ladd
Paddy Ladd
  • Dr. Paddy Ladd
  • Pad.Ladd@bristol.ac.uk
  • 2f9, Centre for Deaf Studies, 8 Woodland Road, Clifton, Bristol, BS8 1TN, UK

Although the idea of ‘publicising myself’ isn’t something I like to do, I accept that a website such as this requires me to do so !

More detail can be found in Ladd (2003) and in the article ‘Making Plans for Nigel’ (1991).

I was born deaf in 1952 and mainstreamed from day one until finishing university in 1973. As such, I was one of the first to be orally mainstreamed, so they considered me to be one of Oralism’s so-called successes. (Which puts me in a good position to criticise the system, once I defected to the Deafworld !) For those who value audiological details, I was originally classified as ‘severely deaf’ and became profoundly deaf in adult life. (This is probably why my English skills are what they are, by the way.)

That journey towards Deafhood, in my case from ‘deaf’ to ‘Deaf’ began in 1974, continues through till today, and will remain so until I die.

Joining the Deaf community was indeed a ‘coming home’. Although it was a long and difficult journey to gain acceptance, I have never for a second doubted that this was my path. I am very grateful to all the Deaf people who took the time to welcome me and patiently educate me in a thousand different ways.

I began as a ‘social worker’ with young Deaf children/youth and their families, (it was Deaf youth who gave me my sign name). I was so shocked by what I found happening under Oralism, that I looked around for others who wanted to change this situation, and in 1976 I became a co-founder of the National Union of the Deaf (NUD). See Lee [ed] 1991 for more on this.

This in a way has been the pattern of my life – to see what was needed in the Deaf community and then work to set it up to make it happen. (I didn’t think about a career path at any point until around 2000 or so – being a dedicated hippie, the idea was anathema to me, symbolising how the ‘straight world’ operated.)

Once we went through the ‘Total Communication’ phase, and BSL linguistic research emerged, it was clear that BSL work was a major priority in gaining recognition for the Deaf community, so I took an MA in Linguistics, aiming to do a PhD. But the limited range of what a PhD could achieve was a luxury at the time – we needed to develop faster and more urgently elsewhere.

Once the British Deaf Association (BDA), influenced by the work of the NUD, changed its policies under Arthur Verney, I joined them in 1981 with the intention of running their new London office. I tried to resist at first, saying that the job should go to a ‘real Deaf’ person, but eventually was persuaded to do so. This period of great joy – a very literal ‘coming home’ -was cut short by the establishment of the first TV programme series for Deaf people, See Hear.

Because the NUD had written and broadcast the first Deaf TV programme, Signs of Life in 1979, I was one of the few Deaf people in the UK who had TV skills, and when the first year of See Hear proved such a disaster from the Deaf community’s point of view, there was a push for me to go and work there to try and change things. I hated leaving the BDA but it was a case of ‘duty calls’, and so in 1982 went off to do this.

I stayed there for 3 years, and managed to achieve some more lasting changes, such as
the move to BSL presenters, the first film stories on Black Deaf, gay and Lesbian Deaf, and more. But being the only Deaf person in a team of 14 or so meant having to fight hundreds of battles, affecting every programme item, in order to get See Hear nearer to what the NUD had envisaged.

If I look now at the documents and memos written back then, it is clear that the aim was to use TV to help rebuild the Deaf community – ie to decide what needed to be developed, and to make programmes which helped to do this. This is very much in line with what this website talks about under ‘Deaf Reconstruction’ after ‘colonialism’. So the vision, if not the language, was in place back then. But after 3 years of battling, this all became too much, and my health gave way, so I knew I had to leave and try to develop Deaf TV skills via a different route.

By then the radical GLC (Greater London Council) was in power and there seemed a window of opportunity to try and set up a BSL Centre that could bring together everything we were all working for. Although they did not agree to fund the whole centre, they did fund the establishing of the London Deaf Video Project (LDVP) in 1985 (under the BDA), which was aimed to translate official information into BSL and set up branches in each of the London Deaf clubs. I stayed till 1992, and during that time we trained many Deaf people and gave them their first film ‘break’, even their first professional jobs, since we were the only Deaf-run company in the UK.

A big turning point came when I was asked to give a paper on ‘Deaf Culture’ at Deaf Way 1 in 1989. I tried to turn down this request, again because I felt they should try to find a ‘real Deaf’ person, but they convinced me that there was no-one else available.

Once I went through the process of giving that paper, it became clear that now that we had achieved a degree of success in getting BSL etc moving, and that the new ‘battleground’ was to properly understand Deaf culture. I reasoned that if we could show that the Deaf community did indeed have collective values and traditions and beliefs, we could campaign more effectively, because then our views could not simply be dismissed as being held by a few ‘not typical’ Deaf people !

The first step was to take up the ‘Dr. Dr.’ Chair of Deaf Studies at Gallaudet in 1992, to try and compare UK and USA Deaf cultures. (That work has still not been published alas – it was intended for Volume 2 of the Deafhood series, but funding for this has still not been found). The experience was superb grounding for the work to come, and I met many great Deaf folks on the same wavelength as me, or further ahead than me, from whom I could learn, such as our dear departed Marie Philip.
I then returned to start a PhD in Deaf culture at the Centre for Deaf Studies at the University of Bristol in 1993, and eventually finished this in 1999. It was a hell of a slog, because as usual I had set my sights too high. My aim had always been to write a book, and doing a PhD was just the means for doing this, rather than the qualification itself. So I had enough material for a 520 page book, as it turned out – and about half as much again that couldn’t be fitted in !

The word ‘Deafhood’ came to me around 1993, and I am sure that it was the life and work of someone like Dorothy Miles who inspired it. But it took the next few years to realise that this was something, a conceptual tool, even more powerful than I had imagined. Its multiple levels of meaning became increasingly clear as time wore on.

During those years it gradually became clear that we have to use Deaf Studies as one of the hearts of our liberation process, to guide the Deaf Reconstruction project along with those in the community. And so I have come to accept that I need to stay in this field, to build a career, which enables us to achieve this. So my attention is focused on training or guiding Deaf, deaf and hearing people along that decolonisation path, whilst carrying out more research myself.

Just as Black Studies and Women’s Studies etc are crucial in providing a ‘calm’, centred space from which to analyse what is happening to them, and to act as a collecting space for examples of positive pride and achievement, both past and present, so this ‘Deafhood Lab’ and these ‘Deafhood Studies’ can do the same for our peoples.

To that end, I would welcome you to join here us at the CDS in Bristol, either in person, or to take weekend courses, online courses or video-conferences, and to contact me at deafhood1@yahoo.co.uk about this.

This has been a long, tough journey, but one which I would not change for all the world. Ironically, I ‘retired’ from wider Deaf politics in 1999, once we had set up the FDP (Federation of Deaf People) and had those wonderful BSL marches. It looked then as if a new wave of Deaf youth would come through to take the burden, but it now seems that this has not been maintained.

The demands of the ‘Deafhood Movement’ are now becoming even greater than my past commitments, because the demand is now worldwide. And my age, health and energy is at the point where I cannot fulfil those demands alone. Indeed I have reached the point where I am not really able to travel extensively any more.

The recent ‘emergence’ of Deafhood ideas into the Gallaudet Protests has speeded up activity considerably, and consequently increased the demands as well, thanks to the Bay Area Deafhood group in San Fransisco.

So what I am hoping is that other people will step forward and take up their own roles in this decolonisation process. We need :

  • Training workshops,
  • Local/regional Deafhood Consciousness Raising Groups,
  • Active thinking about the role of allies in this process and finding a place for them to support our work.
  • Active respect of, and support for, ‘grass roots’ Deaf communities and their traditions.
  • The development of clear Deafhood political, decolonising agendas.
  • And much more !

This website gives you some idea of the range of subjects which form part of those agendas. By coming to this site, you have shown that your curiosity has been awakened. I look forward to seeing some of you participating in this process.

We have around 10 years to build up the ‘Deaf mountain’ of achievement as high as we can before the damage from the CI movement really kicks in. The less we do, the smaller the mountain, and easier it will be to wash it away. The more we do, the higher we can plant, the more ‘wattage’ we can give, to that beacon of light which can help attract those lost d/Deaf people, the ‘stolen generations’ as they are termed by First Nation peoples in Australia and the USA, back to their rightful home. Just as I myself was able to find that flickering light of hope all those years ago...