A look at the last 'War' between oralists and Signers. When a UK hearing Loss charity sent the police around to deaf activists, a Deaf CEO was ousted by Hard Of Hearing, and then gagged for 2 years....
Britain's leading deaf charity riven by warring factions
Wed 5 Jul 2000: Several thousand deaf people are expected to march in London on Saturday to promote awareness of British sign language (BSL) and call for its official recognition as the equivalent of a spoken tongue. The Federation of Deaf People, which is organising the march, says BSL is in more common use than Welsh, Cornish and Scottish Gaelic combined.
The federation has been set up by Doug Alker, former chief executive of the Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNID), who this week also publishes a book setting out his version of the momentous events surrounding his departure from the charity in 1997.
At the time, the charity said he "wanted the freedom and time to tackle issues close to his heart". But Alker, whose severance deal included a two-year vow of silence on events, now says this was far from the truth. In a bitter and outspoken attack on the RNID leadership - in particular, chair David Livermore - he claims he was victim of a palace coup for moving too far and too fast towards a deaf people's agenda. The significance of this is that Alker was the first deaf chief executive of the RNID.
His appointment in 1994 was hailed as a watershed in the world of disability charities. But, according to his account, he soon became mired in the long-running feud between "oralists" (those who believe deaf children should be exposed to the conversation and discouraged from signing) and advocates, like himself, of BSL.
In the book, Really Not Interested in the Deaf? Livermore is portrayed as sympathetic to the oralists. He is accused of manoeuvring to oust Alker and replace him with James Strachan, the current chief executive, who is also deaf but comes from a very different background to Alker.
Alker's departure in 1997 triggered outrage on the part of some deaf activists, who forced an extraordinary general meeting of the charity but failed to defeat the leadership. Many activists are said then to have drifted away from the organisation.
One of the saddest episodes in the saga, as the book recalls, was the involvement of police at the apparent instigation of the leadership. Officers visited a house being used as a mailing address by a self-styled "RNID action group", collecting support for the emergency meeting, and seized correspondence that was allegedly then handed over to the charity. Alker writes: "The RNID's involvement of the police against its own deaf members had a chilling effect."
Alker, 59, is now based in Lancashire, where he is working to attract young deaf people to the federation's rights agenda. The RNID says it is unable to comment on his book without seeing it, but points out that he worked for the charity for 10 years in all and that it shares his goal of official recognition of BSL.