Developing deaf studies

When John Hay attended college in the 1960s, he had to rely on the goodwill of his fellow students to help him follow the lectures.
While some lecturers were very supportive and would provide printed handouts, this was far from commonplace. But he was fortunate to have friends to help him. They would put carbon paper under their own pads so that they could give him an extra copy of the notes they took.
Fast forward to today and John’s own students have no such problems. Deaf students have much more support – sign language interpreters, note-takers and extra help with their English if needed. And it’s thanks to people like John that there has been so much progress.
He was recognised in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List this year and is to receive an MBE for services to higher education and to the Deaf community.
“I am very much honoured to be recognised by both the Queen and the Prime Minister for my services both to the University of Wolverhampton and to Deaf people,” he says.
John has enjoyed a variety of vocational and voluntary activities and witnessed many changes in educational and employment opportunities for deaf people over the past 50 years.
Growing up in Edinburgh, he attended Mary Hare Grammar School for the Deaf in Newbury, Berkshire for his secondary education before joining Edinburgh City Council as architectural assistant. He attended the local college of science and technology, now Napier University, on a day-release basis for seven years.
He successfully completed a course in order to become a Member of the British Institute of Architectural Technicians and is proud of his early achievements.
“The deaf community was really surprised that I was working as an architectural technician and asked me how I got a job there as so many roles seemed unattainable,” he says. “There have been many ground-breaking developments since then. The floodgates are now open with more opportunities for deaf people to be engaged in employment with responsibilities.
“Now, we have deaf dentists, deaf entrepreneurs and deaf lecturers in subjects not related to Deaf Studies. Deaf people can achieve more and meet their potential, thanks to a string of legislative measures such as the Disability Discrimination Act, SENDA and the DWP Access to Work Scheme.”
Emphasising how much educational opportunities have progressed significantly for deaf people, John states that only two out of 30 in his school year cohort went directly to university. Years later, his sons attended the same school and about 80% went on to higher education, with Wolverhampton being a popular choice.
John’s whole family are closely involved with the University of Wolverhampton. His wife, Shirley, teaches sign language to staff and also provides cover for the lecturing team.
His eldest son, Gordon, a graduate from the University’s School of Art & Design in Interactive Media and Photography, met his new wife Iva here when she visited on an exchange from the Czech Republic. They celebrated their marriage in Prague recently.
His younger son, David has also just graduated from the School of Engineering and the Built Environment in Property and Asset Management.
“As you can see, Wolverhampton has played an important part in our family life, as well as the opportunities I have had professionally,” he says.
“There is excellent support for students with or without disabilities. Staff also have the opportunity to develop their deaf awareness, in addition to sign language as part of the University’s corporate staff development programme.
“The University has encouraged me to take on a number of non-teaching responsibilities such as academic counselling, admissions tutoring and special needs tutoring. I’ve also had the chance to go to different conferences in places such as Paris, Prague and Washington DC.”
He maintains links with former students and takes pride in their achievements.
“I’m pleased to see how students have gone out into the world after graduation and I keep bumping into them. I regularly get e-mails from graduates telling me their progress.
One graduate returned to Canada to work as a federal government social policy writer.”
He has a string of awards to his name and was named Teacher of the Year by peers at the University in 2001. He contributes to the annual Deaf Film and Television Festival at the Light House and has broadcasted on several occasions for BBC’s See Hear, the magazine programme for deaf and hard-of-hearing viewers.
John’s voluntary roles include Chairman and Trustee of the British Deaf History Society, Trustee of BID Services for Deaf People, Vice President of the Midlands Regional Association for the Deaf, Patron of Sandwell Deaf Community Association and Patron of the new charity, MyBSLBooks.
In 2006, he spent eight weeks travelling around Europe, America and Canada to tour deaf museums and archival centres, as well as giving talks at universities, schools and colleges after being awarded a prestigious Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship. It is hoped his findings will be used to set up the National Deaf Archives in England.
He says: “I am very proud of the Winston Churchill Fellowship because there are only 100 awarded each year. I also feel privileged to be regarded as an authority on deaf history.” John will receive his MBE at Buckingham Palace later this year to mark his many achievements and the University is very proud of his success.
Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Professor Geoff Hurd, says: “John has had a remarkable career and has shown great energy and dedication in his wide-ranging activities for the British deaf community.”