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Our history

We’ve been helping people with hearing loss for more than 100 years, and changed the lives of millions since we started.

Our key achievements include successfully lobbying the NHS to provide free hearing aids in 1948 and hearing-screening for newborn babies in 2000. We’ve also been involved in life-changing research and have become one of the UK’s leading specialist-care providers for people affected by hearing loss.

The beginning

In the early 1900s, Leo Bonn, a successful banker with hearing loss, decided to use his wealth to improve the lives of those who were deaf, or had hearing loss. There were many societies, schools and missions devoted to the education and welfare of deaf people but they didn’t work together. Leo saw the need for a new, national organisation to coordinate activities so more people could be helped. His aims were ambitious; to support and care for people with hearing loss, to educate those at risk of damaging their hearing, and to raise awareness of how isolating hearing loss can be. 

A national charity for deaf people was born

In 1910, Leo’s lipreading teacher, Mary Hare, introduced him to Arthur Story, headmaster of the Mount Blind and Deaf School in Stoke-on-Trent, who was leading the call for a national organisation for deaf people. Leo was so impressed that on 9 June, 1911, he hosted a meeting of the disparate organisations in the dining room of his Mayfair home, where he offered to establish and fund the National Bureau for promoting the General Welfare of the Deaf.

Continuing to improve lives

With Leo at the helm, the founding organisations set out their three aims: to coordinate charity activities for deaf people, provide accurate information and statistics, and suggest reforms to improve their lives.

Since then, we’ve achieved so much. But our work’s not over yet. We’re driven to succeed by the same passion to improve lives that inspired Leo Bonn, our founder.

With your support, we can continue the work that Leo Bonn began, and change the lives of even more people with hearing loss and tinnitus.

Our timeline

We’ve helped millions of people in the century since our charity began. Our key events show how we’ve been changing lives from our start in 1911 right up to today.

Our key events

  • 1911 On 9 June, Leo Bonn, founds The National Bureau for Promoting the General Welfare of the Deaf
  • 1924 We reorganise the charity to raise our post-war profile and rename it The National Institute for the Deaf.
  • 1929 We open our first residential care home in Lancashire, going on to become one of the UK’s leading specialist-care providers.
  • 1939 We support the war effort by sending hearing aids to deaf prisoners of war, which can be converted into miniature radio receivers for spying purposes!
  • 1946 We launch The Silent Word, a monthly magazine to give deaf people a voice and spread information about hearing issues.
  • 1948 We successfully lobby the newly formed NHS to provide free hearing aids and batteries UK-wide.     
  • 1957 We launch our first helpline, the Personal Advice Bureau, to answer the increasing number of queries we receive.
  • 1958 We’re delighted that HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, whose mother was deaf from birth, becomes our royal patron.
  • 1961 The Queen approves the addition of ‘Royal’ to our name for our jubilee year. We become the Royal National Institute for the Deaf.
  • 1974 Following our research, the NHS issues behind-the-ear hearing aids.
  • 1983 We successfully campaign for rubella vaccinations for young women. The virus, which can cause deafness and other disabilities in unborn babies, has since been virtually wiped out in the UK.
  • 1989 Michael Batt becomes the first British child to receive a cochlear implant, following almost a decade of research and work with surgeons at the Royal Ear Hospital.
  • 2000 Following our campaign with the National Deaf Children’s Society, all newborn babies are offered hearing screening by the NHS. We also start working with the NHS to deliver modern digital hearing aids as standard.
  • 2004 Research we fund links a type of gene, called a microRNA, to hearing loss for the first time. This work opens up a new field of research into hearing loss.
  • 2011 A big year for us as we celebrate our 100th birthday and change our name to Action on Hearing Loss. We also launch our Translational Research Initiative for Hearing (TRIH), which encourages pharmaceutical companies to invest in the development of new treatments and cures for hearing loss and tinnitus.
  • 2012 Research funded by us shows human stem cells restore hearing in deafened gerbils – a breakthrough in the search for a way to restore natural hearing.
  • 2013 We merge with medical charity Deafness Research UK. Together, and with more funding, we’re determined to cure hearing loss within a generation.
  • 2015 Our Hearing Matters report highlights hearing loss as a major public health issue, and urges immediate action.
  • A new genetic test for hearing loss becomes available on the NHS as a result of research we funded. The test screens for most of the known genes that cause deafness.
  • 2016 Research breakthrough identified the first gene, SERPINF1, to cause otosclerosis, a condition leading to deafness.