Deaf History Workshop Attracts World-leaders in Deaf History

Participants gather round a cake to celebrate the 300th birthday of Abbe Charles-Michel de l'EpeeParticipants help celebrate the 300th birthday of Abbe Charles-Michel de l'Epee

Recently, the Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children’s (RIDBC) Renwick Centre hosted the fifth Deaf History Workshop. This year’s theme was Deaf Education in 1950s Australia.

Held as part of RIDBC Renwick Centre’s Continuing Professional Education Program and conducted by RIDBC Lecturer, Dr Breda Carty, as well as guest lecturers Darlene Thornton and Dr Susannah Macready, the week-long program drew 18 participants from around Australia, almost all of whom were Deaf.

The group were primarily teachers of Deaf History in TAFE or high school programs, and the week gave these educators an insight into the rapid changes in Deaf education that occurred in the 1950s.

“Two British experts on the education of deaf children, Sir Alexander and Lady Irene Ewing, from the University of Manchester, visited Australia early in that decade. They visited every school program for deaf children in Australia and wrote reports for each state government and to the Federal Government,” said Dr Carty.

“The Ewings are widely credited with the strong nation-wide move towards oral methods of educating deaf children in 1950s Australia, and also for the development of the first formal training program for Teachers of the Deaf, which was established in Melbourne in that decade.

“Their recommendations were very influential but their strong focus on a single and exclusive approach was controversial among advocates of alternative methods—particularly among those who advocated the use of sign language. The study of this history can tell us much about the need to be inclusive of alternative educational approaches to suit the needs of all children.” 

Special guest John Hay MBE, who has recently retired from the University of Wolverhampton and travelled from the United Kingdom for the event, also contributed to week of workshops.

“As President of the British Deaf History Society, John has conducted research on many aspects of Deaf History, including deaf people who were early migrants to Australia such as Thomas Pattison—RIDBC’s first teacher and RIDBC Thomas Pattison School’s namesake,” said Dr Carty.

The fourth day of the workshop was a ‘hands on’ day, with a range of external activities.

“The group visited the archive of the Deaf Society of NSW in Parramatta to see how they are storing and documenting their historical collection and also the State Library of NSW, where they explored special collections related to deaf people’s history,” said Dr Carty.

“Many participants also visited the nearby Hyde Park Barracks, to see their ‘Convict Sydney’ exhibition using the new OpenMi technology, which provides Auslan interpretation of Museum tours on iPods or iPhones.”

RIDBC’s biennial Deaf History Workshops are unique in Australia, and are becoming known as the events to attend to learn about the latest research into Australia’s Deaf History and to share ideas and develop skills in research and teaching.