We asked you, our readers, who we should profile as some of our most iconic Deaf figures – here are your picks.
Deaf Poet and Activist: Dorothy “Dot” Miles, 1931 – 1993
Her talents seemed endless. Widely regarded as the pioneer of BSL poetry, Dot Miles was not only a poet, she was a playwright, performer, scholar, teacher and passionate activist. Dot contracted cerebrospinal meningitis, which left her deaf at age eight. Educated at the Royal School for the Deaf and the Mary Hare School, she later won a scholarship to attend Gallaudet University in Washington DC, becoming the first member of a junior class to be a member of the prestigious Gallaudet Phi Alpha Pi Honour Society. She edited the student magazines and won prizes for both her prose writing and poetry and for acting. She married fellow student, Robert Thomas Miles in Sept 1958, later separating in 1959. After she graduated in 1961 with a BA with distinction, she pursued her passion for theatre and joined the newly founded National Theatre of the Deaf and began to create sign language poetry that appealed to both deaf and hearing audiences – with the aim of bridging the gap between both worlds.
After 20 years in America, she returned to live in England in 1977, and was soon involved in the National Union of the Deaf’s Open Door (BBC TV) pioneering television programme, as well as being a key person in discussions that led to the See Hear television series. Then the BDA came calling, where she compiled the first teaching manual for BSL tutors and became involved in setting up the Council for the Advancement of Communication with Deaf People. She didn’t stop there, working as a self-employed writer, lecturer and performer and becoming involved in promotion of sign language teaching and training of tutors and deaf theatre. She was involved in setting up and then teaching on the British Sign Language Tutor Training Course – the first university course for training deaf people to become BSL tutors. She also wrote the best-selling BBC book BSL – A Beginner’s Guide, which was published to complement the television series.
She died on January 30, 1993 when she fell from the window of her second floor flat – taking her own life while depressed.
BDA Chair: Dr Terry Riley OBE
Born into a Deaf family in Manchester, by the age of 15 he had already been elected Secretary of the Manchester Deaf Club. In a media career spanning over three decades, his early beginnings as a researcher on BBC Television’s groundbreaking programme See Hear, saw him progress over the next 15 years to director, producer and finally in 2002 to Series Editor – the first Deaf person to hold the post – a position he held for six years.After retiring from the BBC in 2008, Terry became Chief Executive of the British Sign Language Broadcasting Trust and later Chair of the BDA, a post he still holds today. He is a member of the board of the World Federation for the Deaf.He was awarded the OBE from the Queen for services to Deaf Broadcasting and Campaigning in 2014.