In 1886, the National Association for the Deaf and Dumb (NADD) was started by Deaf people in the United Kingdom to counter what they saw as a threat to Deaf people’s language and their right to education using what communication was chosen.

The immediate cause of the BDA’s birth was the failure of an 1889 Royal Commission on the education of deaf children to consult Deaf people. This led the magazine Deaf Mute to urge Deaf people to unite in defence of their own interests.

A short while after the NADD collapse in 1889, four determined Deaf men (Francis Maginn, George Healey) travelling back to the UK from France, decided to call a meeting “National Conference of Adult Deaf and Dumb Missions and Associations” to be held at St. Saviours Church for the Deaf, Oxford Street, London in January 1890. The conference was to consider the formation of a national society to “elevate the education and social status of the Deaf and Dumb in the United Kingdom” until the British Deaf and Dumb Association (BDDA) was newly formed on 24th July 1890 in Leeds.

The BDDA was founded at a time of intense controversy about the use of Sign Language and finger-spelling in the education of deaf children, and about the exclusion of Deaf people from national decisions that affected their lives, thus entered a fiercely hostile world, one dominated by hearing people acting on behalf of Deaf people but not representing their true interests or sharing their aspirations.

The 1890 conference was also a belated response to an international congress held in Milan ten years earlier, attended mainly by hearing teachers of deaf children, that passed a resolution banning the use of Sign Languages throughout the world. Enthused, delegates returned home all over Europe to weed out Deaf teachers, to eradicate the use of sign language in schools, and to cut down classes to sizes that could be managed by hearing teachers.

The BDDA deleted the world “Dumb” from its title in 1971. At this time it was still an entirely voluntary body but in the following year, the newly styled BDA appointed its first salaried General Secretary, Allan Hayhurst. Under his leadership, the BDA became more professional and, as well as providing a number of services to the community, began to promote its beliefs more publicly, especially its commitment to the Total Communication – the use of all available means of communication such as Sign Language, finger-spelling, lip-reading, amplified sound, writing, mime and gesture, and speech.

Following the BDA Congress in 1980, which re-appraised the organisation’s role, the BDA began to turn its attention to also mobilising the support of the hearing community. Its aim was – and still is – to develop greater understanding in the country as a whole of what deafness means, and to raise money to finance its community development and campaigning programme.

More information: