History Resource: Thomas Braidwood & Other Notable Deaf Pioneers

Thomas Braidwood: Arguably the UK’s most Notable Deaf Person

Thomas Braidwood originally started as a writing teacher, teaching the children of the wealthy from his home in Edinburgh.

In 1760,Charles Shirreff (1749–1829) who later became known as a painter of portrait miniatures became his first deaf pupil. Shirreff, then ten years old, was the son of Alexander Shirreff, a Leith-based merchant who convinced Braidwood to teach his deaf-mute son to write. Braidwood then changed from mainstream teaching to specialising in teaching deaf children.

Joseph Watson, a nephew of Braidwood, began working with him in 1784 and in 1792, Dr. Watson went on to become the first head teacher of the London Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb, on the Old Kent Road. Watson’s pupils included England’s first deaf barrister, John William Lowe.

Thanks to pioneers, like Thomas many notable people with hearing impairments have gone on in the world to make their mark. Here are a few of our favourites…

Helen Keller

She was the first deaf-blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree.

helen keller

Laurent Clerc

A French teacher called “The Apostle of the Deaf in America” by generations of American Deaf people.

laurent clerk

Andrew Foster

In 1954, he became the first deaf African American to earn a BA from Gallaudet College and the first to earn a Master’s degree from Eastern Michigan University.


Heather Whitestone

A former beauty queen who was the first deaf Miss America title holder, she was inspired by Helen Keller.

heather whitestone

Looking to inspire the younger generation yourself? You can search our latest SEND teaching roles here

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Are you hearing impaired? How has this impacted your career? Or maybe you teach students with hearing impairment? How would you describe your typical day at school?