Deaf news: First deaf MP, Lord Ashley of Stoke has died

Posted on April 21, 2012

It has been reported that Lord Ashley of Stoke, who was profoundly deaf and worked as a tireless campaigner for the rights of deaf and disabled people, has passed away at the age of 89 after a short illness.

Ashley was a Labour member of the House of Lords and an MP for Stoke-on-Trent South from 1966 to 1992.

He became profoundly deaf after a minor operation in 1967, but after initially fearing he would have to give up politics, he decided to continue after learning to lip read, aided by his wife, Pauline.

Fellow MPs also helped him to take part in Commons debates by turning towards him so he could get a clear view of their mouths.

One of his first steps was establishing an All Party Disablement Group (now the All Party Parliamentary Disability Group or APPDG), at a time when he was still coming to terms with losing his hearing.

He went on to establish himself as an MP who was combative and outspoken in his quest to battle social injustice, earning himself the nickname “that bloody Jack Ashley.”

Ashley became a tireless campaigner for deaf and disabled people, founding the charity Defeating Deafness in 1986 (now known as Deafness Research UK), and becoming the president of the RNID (now Action on Hearing Loss) in 1987.

He also later became the president of the UK Council on Deafness in 1994 and was a key campaigner for legislation that led to the groundbreaking Disability Discrimination Act in 1995.

Ashley also spearheaded a number of ground-breaking campaigns for Thalidomide children, battered women, rape victims, nuclear test victims and bullied soldiers. He remained a patron for many deaf organisations, and was the President of the National Association of Deafened People (NADP).

He retired from the House of Commons at the 1992 general election and was made a Life peer the same year. In 1994 he received a cochlear implant which restored much of his hearing.

Even after his retirement, his work continued – in 2003 he secured changes to improve the provision of subtitles on television.

One of three children born to a poor couple in Widnes, Jack Ashley was only five when his father, a factory night-watchman, died and once said: “I was always very anxious to campaign on behalf of disadvantaged people. I feel an affinity with them.”

By Charlie Swinbourne

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