Votives in Manchester: International Day of Disabled People 2021

Cultures of Disability News

Inspired by Emma-Jayne Graham’s lecture on votives in Ancient Rome, Venture Arts developed a workshop with Manchester Histories on votives which took place at Manchester’s celebration of IDDP21, Dr Graham’s work explores the experience of disability in Rome through the models of body parts which were left at shrines. These body parts often represented impairments that visitors wanted healing and included arms, legs, feet and ears. At Manchester Central Library, participants were able to create their own clay votives inspired by their experiences of perceived impairment and disability.

To find out more about votives in the Ancient world, you can watch Emma-Jayne’s lecture here. A shorter version is also available at Manchester Central Library with Archives+ on the listening pods.


Venture Arts is an award-winning charity, working with artists with learning disabilities. The workshop was funded by Manchester Metropolitan University.

A woman holding a hearing trumpet

Hearing Happiness

Cultures of Disability News

A woman holding a hearing trumpet

Our celebrations of UK Disability History Month started with an entertaining and informative talk by Professor Jaipreet Virdi, an award-winning activist, writer and historian. Professor Virdi presented compelling arguments about ideas of disability and views of deafness in 20th-century America and explored the evolution of hearing aids.

Dr. Jaipreet Virdi (University of Delaware) is an award-winning historian who explores how medicine and technology affect the lives of disabled people and recently published Hearing Happiness:  Deafness Cures in History  (2020)

In this talk she examines the cures for deafness and the development of hearing aids in 20th-century America.   She also discusses her own experience of hearing loss and deaf education.

Jaipreet Virdi’s talk launched Cultures of Disability’s celebration of UKDHM 2021, was a joint project with Manchester City Council , Manchester Met University and Manchester Libraries and is also available on Archives+.   It is available here with BSL interpretation and captions.

Cover of a book which is bright yellow, and title is in large red print. Black and white photograph of white woman wearing an old fashioned bonnet, and listening to a hearing tube. Writing reads: Hearing Happiness: Deafness Cures in History by Jaipreet Virdi

If you missed the event, for a limited period you can watch the pre-recorded lecture here. This includes BSL interpretation and captions.

You can also find out more in Professor Verdi’s book, Hearing Happiness. Why not see what other events we are running to celebrate UKDHM?

M logo pink blue and purple
Manchester Centre for public history & Heritage logo on a white background
Manchester City Council black on white background Logo

an image of a Culture in Quarantine flyer

Culture in Quarantine: A Manifesto for 2050

Cultures of Disability News

an image of a Culture in Quarantine flyer

Dr Kai Syng Tan, an artist based at MMU and a member of the ‘Cultures of Disability’ research group, was commissioned to produce a film for the BBC this summer as part of the BBC Arts’ Culture In Quarantine initiative, which has brought the arts into people’s homes during the lockdown.

Her film, How To Thrive In 2050! 8 Tentacular Workouts For A Tantalising Future! is available on the BBC i-player. It’s a call for action for a more creative, equitable and neuro-fantastic future by a ‘human-octopussy’, and is challenging, funny and inspiring.

Dr Kai Syng Tan is one of twelve D/deaf, neurodivergent and disabled professional artists based in England, Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland who have been commissioned to produce new film and audio works for BBC platforms, many of which explore the experience of living through Covid-19.

Lamia Dabboussy, BBC Head of Arts says: “This batch of commissions from artists across the country showcases the breadth of inspiring work we’ve all missed experiencing over this past lockdown year”

How to Thrive in 2050! 8 Tentacular Workouts For A Tantalising Future! is a brilliant and creative film – congratulations to Dr Kai Syng Tan! For more of her work see her webpage.

An open book showing different gestures with his hands.

Deafness and Salvation in Early Modern Europe

Early Modern Europe was an aural world. Despite the invention of print and the rise in literacy, speech was still the main form of communication: it was at the heart of religious worship and legal practice. In a world based around the spoken word, what about those who struggled to hear or who couldn’t speak?

Early modern priests worried about whether prelingually deaf people could enter heaven. A stumbling block for many was the assertion by St Paul that ‘faith comes by hearing’ and ‘by the mouth, confession is made unto salvation’: how could deaf men and women either come to know God or perform the necessary sacraments?


It was a problem that troubled Catholics and Protestants: they worried about how to communicate with deaf and deafened people, and how to help those same people to take part in Church sacraments. Dominican Friars – who had a tradition of using their fingers to remember parts of their sermons – introduced finger spelling to help men and women make their confessions when speech was not possible. In the following centuries, a Benedictine monk, Pedro Ponce de Leon, taught deaf children to lip read and so to communicate by ‘speaking’ in Spanish. As a result, deaf children of Spanish noblemen were able to make wills, inherit their parents’ wealth, make confession and attend Church services. Pedro Ponce de Leon’s efforts were carried on in Spain by Juan Pablo Bonet, who published a guide to teaching deaf children to ‘speak’: Reduccion de Las Letras (1620).1

17th-century printed pictures in a grid of 24 squares showing different gestures with his hands.

These early efforts at Deaf Education prefigured the Oralist movement of the nineteenth century, when prelingually deaf children were encouraged to speak and lipread in their native languages rather than using sign language, but at the same time as Spanish children were being taught to speak vocally, elsewhere in Europe sign language was being recognised as a valid alternative to oral speech in Church ceremonies.

Catholics and Protestants ensured deaf signers could take part in Church ceremonies

— Marc Scott, Executive Officer

In seventeenth-century Geneva, the Catholic Bishop, Francis de Sales prepared a prelingually deaf boy, Martin, for communion using sign language. Martin ‘could express by signs good and evil thoughts of the mind, perfect and imperfect consent of the will, and the difference between mortal and venial sin’. In seventeenth-century Protestant England, it was reported that the ‘gestures and zealous signs’ of a prelingually deaf gentleman, Edward Gostwicke, ‘’procur’d and allow’d him admittance to sermons, to prayers [and] to the Lord’s supper’. Increase Mather recorded a prelingually deaf woman taking the Eucharist in colonial America, writing that those ‘born, or by any accident made Deaf and Dumb … [who are] able by signs (which are analogous to verbal expressions) to declare their knowledge and faith; may as freely be received to the Lords supper as any that shall orally make the like profession.’

17th-century printed pictures in a grid of 24 squares showing a man with long hair, a neat beard and dressed like a cavalier making different gestures with his hands.

Language, of course, relies on mutual understanding and so for the signs to have a legal status they needed to be agreed and accepted by all the parties involved – notably the hearing ministers. Two marriages in early modern England show the problems – and benefits – of using sign language as an alternative to oral speech. In 1618, a prelingually deaf man, Thomas Speller, married Sara Earle after getting permission from the chancellor of the diocese of London and the Lord Chief Justice, who agreed in advance the signs that Speller would use to show his consent. Fifty years earlier in Leicestershire, another prelingually deaf man, Thomas Tilsye, married using sign language. To show his willingness to marry his bride, Ursula Russell, he enacted elements of the wedding ceremony: ‘first, he embraced her with his arms, and took her by the hand, put a ring upon her finger, and laid his hand upon her heart, and held his hands towards heaven; and to show his continuance to dwell with her to his life’s end, he did it by closing of his eyes with his hands, and digging out of the earth with his foot, and pulling as though he would ring a bell’.