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UK Disability History Month

Dorothy Miles

Dorothy - dorothy miles photoknown as ‘Dot’ -  was a sign language poet, playwright and Deaf activist who worked in the UK and America. Throughout her life, she composed poems in English, British Sign Language, and American Sign Language. Regarded as the pioneer of BSL poetry, her work influenced many contemporary Deaf poets. Dorothy Miles’ vision was of deaf and hearing people learning, developing and working together. 

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. She won a scholarship to attend 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. At University she edited the student magazines and won prizes for both her prose writing and poetry and for acting. After she graduated in 1961 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. 

 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. 

There are a number of videos on YouTube showing  Dorothy Miles performing her poems