R.I.P Lord Ashley of Stoke: Elected to Parliament Despite Deafness, Advocate for People w/Disabilities

June 12, 2012 in Community Events

Lord Ashley of Stoke, 12/6/1922 to 4/20/212

 
From The Telegraph, 4/22/2012
 
Lord Ashley of Stoke, who has died aged 89, was arguably the most influential backbench MP of his generation.
 
Rendered stone deaf on the threshold of a ministerial career, he stayed in Parliament to campaign for not only the hearing-impaired but thalidomide children, sufferers from vaccine damage, rape victims, battered wives, haemophiliacs given HIV-infected blood and servicemen who contracted cancer after witnessing nuclear tests.
 
Thalidomide was his greatest triumph; he shamed the Distillers’ Company into compensating children born limbless after their mothers took the drug, and secured help for those whose disability could not be proved to have been caused by it. Ashley promoted the Commons motion that enabled the media to campaign for compensation despite ongoing court proceedings, by distinguishing between the company’s legal and moral obligations. His technique was simple: “not to accept a brush-off from any minister, Labour or Tory, if you are convinced you are right.”
 
Ashley commanded respect on all sides for the manner in which he overcame his disability, his persistence in seeking justice for others, and the fair-mindedness that overlaid his righteous anger. These attributes were recognised not only in the life peerage he received when he left the Commons in 1992, but in his appointment as a Companion of Honour in 1975 and a Privy Counsellor in 1979.
 
Firmly on the Right of his party but always a conciliator, he served for two years on Labour’s national executive. But his ultimate reward came in 1993, when he partially regained his hearing after a cochlear implant. He described the resulting sound as “like hearing a short-wave radio signal from a thousand metres away”, but took issue with groups of the deaf who opposed giving the implants to children who otherwise would not hear.
 
Ashley was struck deaf early in 1968, less than two years after his election for Stoke-on-Trent South. An operation in Liverpool to repair an eardrum punctured in childhood was successful, but infection set in. It was cured by antibiotics, but no instructions were given for the treatment to stop and the drug destroyed his hearing.
 
He woke to hear trams going past; he got to the window and realised the noise was in his head. For three months he suffered “a continuous noise like the shriek of a jet engine or roar of a power station”, and for decades he suffered from tinnitus.
 
To a 45-year-old man tipped for a ministerial career and in an occupation dependent on vocal communication, loss of hearing seemed the end. Ashley decided to quit, then resolved to overcome the challenge of remaining an MP in his new world of silence. “The only thing to do with a disability,” he said, “is to admit it and overcome it.” This he did, triumphantly.
 
Ashley became a formidable parliamentarian and a tireless campaigner, focusing the attention of the nation and of government on the problems facing the disabled; it was largely due to Ashley that all governments now include a Minister for Disability.