The Contributions of Deaf Activist and Poet Dorothy Miles: Descriptive Essay

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Table of contents

  1. Early Life and Education of Dorothy Miles
  2. Dorothy Miles' College Years and Early Achievements
  3. Career Beginnings and Contributions to Deaf Culture
  4. Dorothy Miles' Impact on Sign Poetry and Deaf Awareness
  5. Return to the United Kingdom and Further Achievements
  6. Legacy and Commemoration of Dorothy Miles
  7. Dorothy Miles as a Deaf Advocate and Activist
  8. Personal Challenges and Dorothy Miles' Legacy
  9. Works Cited

Early Life and Education of Dorothy Miles

Deaf activist and poet, Dorothy Miles was born on August 19th, 1931 in North Wales, United Kingdom (Dorothy). Dorothy was the youngest of five and was very close to her parents throughout her life. She passed away at age sixty-one in January 1993 (Dorothy). Dorothy’s first language was English; it was not until she was eight years old that she became ill with cerebrospinal meningitis that left her deaf (Heffernan). Before she came to America, she attended the Royal School for the Deaf and the Mary Hare School (Dorothy).

Dorothy Miles' College Years and Early Achievements

Dorothy’s dream of performing and writing lead her to attend Gallaudet University at age of twenty-five. During her time there she was the first junior class student to become a member of the Gallaudet Phi Alpha Pi Honor Society (Sutton). Some of her accomplishments in college include prizes for poetry, acting, and writing. She edited the student magazines and was in the “Who’s Who in American Colleges and Universities”, the 1961 edition (About). In September 1958, she married Robert Miles, another student attending Gallaudet; soon after they separated in 1959 (Heffernan). Some say that she was so ambitious and dramatic that she must have fallen out of love as quickly as she had fallen into it. Dorothy graduated in 1961 with a bachelor's with distinction (Dorothy). She was well educated and had a passion for poetry and performing.

Career Beginnings and Contributions to Deaf Culture

Soon after she began her career with counseling and teaching deaf adults. In 1967 she joined a newly founded organization that’s goal was to link the deaf community and the hearing community by educating about deaf art, the language, and the culture. The National Theatre of the Deaf was the oldest theatre company in the United States with a continuous history of domestic and international touring and production if original works, it is otherwise known as NTD (National). Dorothy found her true passion here and began creating her poetry and performing. Her poems were revolutionary because they used both signed and written poetry. In 1975, Dorothy left NTD to work at California State University, working with campus services for the deaf (Dorothy). She performed many of her poems all over the United States. During her time in America, her options were more open, and she developed her ambitions.

Dorothy Miles' Impact on Sign Poetry and Deaf Awareness

Many of her poems are still performed and contain many known stories from the deaf community. Some of her works include To a Deaf Child, Language for The Eye, and Elephants Dancing (Sutton). All the poems listed above are combining poetry and sign language to create a revolutionary way of storytelling and writing in the deaf community. During Dorothy's life, she did not only create this form of art but during the process, she was also spreading and informing individuals about the deaf community.

Return to the United Kingdom and Further Achievements

Dorothy Miles returned to the United Kingdom, in 1977 after America being her home for 20 years (About). When she returned, she became involved in the National Union of the Deaf’s “Open Door” featured on BBC television program (Dorothy). There she performed her poem Language for the Eye. “The world becomes the picture in this; language for the eye” (Miles). After, she became involved in producing “See Hear”, a television series and a monthly magazine subscription that is for deaf and hard of hearing people in the United Kingdom, focusing on topics such as education and deaf people's rights (See). The program is completely in British Sign Language (BSL) and includes subtitles and voice-overs. This is so both hearing and deaf individuals can be informed about the deaf community and enjoy the program. Dorothy Mile's goal was to link the two cultures and create a sense of unity between the two communities.

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Dorothy Miles also started to work at the British Deaf Association. There she compiled the first teaching manual for British Sign Language tutors. This opened the doors for deaf students to get additional help from experienced, well-trained tutors that were aware of deaf culture and sign language. She also became involved at the beginning of the Council for the Advancement of Communication with Deaf People (CACDP). This organization is a charity whose aim is to improve communication between hearing and deaf people in the United Kingdom (Council). Dorothy worked on the BDA Dictionary. She is also the author of bestselling BBC book; BSL-A Beginner’s Guide. This book was designed to complement the television series previously mentioned, “See Hear”.

Legacy and Commemoration of Dorothy Miles

In commemoration of Dorothy Miles, the Dorothy Miles Cultural Centre was established in Surrey, England. This was a non-profit charitable institution whose aim was to spread British Sign Language and raising deaf awareness (About). The program is currently known as Dot Sign Language. Its program provides education for BSL, levels one through six. The program has experienced BSL tutors and providers of deaf awareness. The program also can provide workplace training for deaf or hard-of-hearing individuals. Some of the businesses that are being taught by the program include Heathrow and Specsavers.

Dorothy Miles as a Deaf Advocate and Activist

Along with being a poet she was also an ambitious deaf advocate. She fought for sign language and deaf culture to be recognized. Some of the activist groups she was associated with include the Northern Ireland Deaf Youth Association (NIDYA), which is currently located in Belfast, Northern Ireland (Northern). Dorothy Miles also contributed to advocating for the National Association of the Deaf which was founded in 1880 in Ohio and is a nonprofit organization whose aim was to advocate for deaf rights (National). Another group she was an advocate for was the Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNID). It was a charitable organization, in the United Kingdom formed in 1911 (Action). It is currently known as Action on Hearing Loss, as of 2011. Dorothy Miles also took part in the National Black Deaf Advocates, which was founded in 1982 (National). This organization was created to advocate for black individuals that are also deaf or hard of hearing in the United States. Dorothy Miles has a lasting impact throughout many movements that have faced the deaf community, thanks to her part in advocating for deaf culture.

Personal Challenges and Dorothy Miles' Legacy

Throughout Dorothy's life, she had many accomplishments, along with being a critical deaf advocate an insightful poet. But she also had many obstacles throughout her life. When she was 20 years old she lost both of her parents, in whom she was very close. When she moved to America she married and divorced within the same year, which soon after she became involved with another man. The man she became involved with was a black man that was also deaf. Bi-racial relationships were a taboo concept during that time, which was a stressful situation. Although, Dorothy Miles was associated with an advocate group for black deaf people, mentioned above. During her time involved with him, she became pregnant and miscarried, which caused Dorothy to consume herself in her work. Under the pressure and stressed she eventually sought psychiatric treatment in 1969 and paused her career for five years (Heffernan). In her later years of life, she fought depression and she was bipolar. Unfortunately, because of her disorder and illness, in 1193 she committed suicide by throwing herself of the second-story window in her house (Heffernan). In her memory, there were many things that were attributed. In her memory the novel, “Bright Memory: The Poetry of Dorothy Miles” published by the British Deaf History Society in 1998, containing her poems and work (Miles). She is also seen as an essential part of British Sign Language in the United Kingdom because she brought many of the things she learned in the United States, back with her. Even though she was ill in her later life, she is still known for her great talents and achievements. She is a well-known advocate for the deaf community and will always be such.

Dorothy Miles has an amazing impact on the deaf community and has brought deaf culture and sign language to light for both deaf and hearing people in the United Kingdom and in the United States. Throughout her accomplishments, she has created a foundation for many aspects of British Sign Language and sign poetry. Dorothy had overcome the challenges she was faced, such as becoming deaf at age eight, periods of mental illness, and many hardships throughout her life. Dorothy Miles is known as an essential part of the scholarly and poetic heritage of sign language and deaf culture. She fought for equality among all, for both hearing and deaf to grow together, and for deaf rights. Dorothy Miles was a truly exceptional and interesting individual and will remind the deaf community of the obstacles they are able to face.

Works Cited

  1. “About Dorothy Miles | Biography | Poet.” UpClosed,
  2. “About Us.” Dot Sign Language, 1 May 2018,
  3. “Action on Hearing Loss.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 29 Mar. 2019,
  4. Clark, and John Lee. “Deaf American Poetry: An Anthology.” Project MUSE, Gallaudet University Press,
  5. “Council for the Advancement of Communication with Deaf People.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 13 Aug. 2017,
  6. “Dorothy Miles – January 2017 | Sorenson VRS.” SVRS,
  7. “Dorothy Miles.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 22 Mar. 2019,
  8. Heffernan, Cathy, and Bim Ajadi. “Dot.” BSL Zone, BSLBT,
  9. Miles, Dorothy, and Donald E. Read. “Bright Memory: the Poetry of Dorothy Miles.” Alibris, British Deaf History Society, poetry of Dorothy miles
  10. “National Association of the Deaf (United States).” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 29 Mar. 2019,
  11. “National Black Deaf Advocates.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 29 Mar. 2019,
  12. “National Theatre of the Deaf.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 1 Sept. 2018,
  13. “Northern Ireland Deaf Youth Association.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 29 Mar. 2019,
  14. “See Hear.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 16 Nov. 2018,
  15. Sutton-Spece, Rachel. “Dorothy Miles: a Modern Deaf Poet.” Dorothy Miles, ASL/BSL Poet, European Cultural Heritage Online (ECHO), Dec. 2003,
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