We asked you, our readers, who we should profile as some of our most iconic Deaf figures – here is your pick…

The Founder: Francis Maginn, 1861-1918

It’s a name everyone knows, but who was he? 

Co-founder of the British Deaf Association, Francis Maginn was a Church of Ireland missionary who worked passionately to improve living standards for the deaf community.

Deafened at age five, due to scarlet fever, Maginn was sent to the Royal London Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb. He excelled at school, later attending the National Deaf-Mute College (to be known as Gallaudet University) in Washington, D.C. 

Inspired by his experiences at Gallaudet, Maginn felt that the British approach to deafness was one of injustice, and he dedicated his life to improving the quality of life for deaf people in the UK.

He had his opportunity in January 1890, when a national conference for the deaf was held in St Saviour’s Church for the deaf in London. 

He proposed forming a National Association for the Deaf, and said that the American Combined Method education system – incorporating fingerspelling, Signed English and lipreading, which gave access to English as a written language and spoken language – should be used.

The Association was formed in the Lecture Hall of the Leeds Church Institute, in Albion Place, Leeds, on 24 July 1890. The Association, named the British Deaf and Dumb Association championed for the use of sign language in deaf schools rather than just Pure Oral Systems. A hearing man, was elected Chairman, while Maginn was given the role of regional vice-president, which was said to be honorary and held no real power. Maginn gradually withdrew from the Association and focused on Ulster Institute for the Deaf. He died in Belfast in 1918. 

Today that Association he helped found continues to thrive as The British Deaf Association.

The Mother of sign poetry: 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.

The prolific Deaf journalist: Arthur Dimmock MBE, 1918-2007

It was a sad day for British Deaf News when Arthur F. Dimmock MBE passed away in 2007 at 89.  

Said to have laid the blueprint of future generations of Deaf people, he first gained prominence as a Deaf sports journalist. His long-standing column in BDN “Girdle Around the Earth” gained him an international reputation. 

A bout of meningitis left him deaf during early childhood, prompting a doctor to recommend that he be committed to a psychiatric hospital. Instead, he became an avid reader and excelled academically.

Largely self-taught, his talents were boundless and saw him become a cabinetmaker, photographer, tourist courier and writer. 

After the war ended, Dimmock became involved with deaf clubs in the London area by writing for The Review, a London-based deaf magazine, and sports as he was secretary to the Croydon Deaf Club. 

He was one of the founding members of the National Union of the Deaf and later its president and the British Deaf History Society. 

A firm advocate of bilingual education for deaf people, he advocated a strong emphasis on the importance of written English. He preferred rapid finger-spelling in English to sign language, which he inherited from his mother, Eleanor. 

Elected to the executive council of the BDA, he was awarded the BDA Gold Medal of Honour for his 50 years of service to the British deaf community. 

In 1995, Arthur was awarded the MBE for services to deaf people. In 2000 the University of Wolverhampton awarded Arthur an honorary degree of doctor of arts. He passed away in 2007.

More than a writer, he was a man of immeasurable action.

The Visionary: Dr Paddy Ladd

Writer, academic and all-round activist Dr Paddy Ladd has gained international recognition.

As one of the first deaf children in mainstream education, he was not taught to sign, until he was 22. 

It’s no wonder then that Ladd has since rallied against “oralist” policies and the use of cochlear implants, arguing that they are the cause of illiteracy, mental health and communication problems. 

A fierce and tireless campaigner for Deaf rights, Ladd with other deaf activists, set up the National Union of the Deaf in 1976. It succeeded in getting sign language on television and enabling deaf children to be educated in sign. 

He became the first and only non-American to hold the most prestigious chair in deaf academia, as Powrie V. Doctor Chair of Deaf Studies at Gallaudet University in 1992. 

He has also completed his Ph.D. in Deaf Culture at Bristol University in 1998, later becoming a lecturer and MSc Coordinator. 

He first developed the concept of “Deafhood” in 1993 and later published Understanding Deaf Culture – In Search of Deafhood in 2003, calling Deafhood a “process” towards deepening and refining their Deaf selves. 

He has countless awards under his belt including, The Deaf Lifetime Achievement Award from the Federation of Deaf People; the Francis Maginn Award “For Lifetime Achievement for the Deaf Community” from the BDA (2004) and The E.M. Gallaudet Award for “International Leadership in Promoting the Well-Being of Deaf People of the World” from Gallaudet University (2009) amongst many others.

The Pioneer: Raymond Lee

Not only did he forge an established career as a site manager in the construction industry, he was a trailblazer in promoting rights for Deaf people. One of the founders of the National Union of the Deaf in 1975, with Paddy Ladd, he was also one of the pioneers in the creation of Signs of Life in 1979. He co-founded the British Deaf History Society in 1993 along with John Hay and established the BDHS Research and Publications Department, becoming the first editor of the Deaf History Journal.

“Apart from founding the National Union of the Deaf and the British Deaf History Society, my greatest achievement is yet to come and hopefully it will be out in July this year.”

The Trailblazer: Austin Reeves MBE

According to Austin Reeves MBE, the Deaf Broadcasting Council’s greatest achievement was, “simply making television more accessible for deaf and HOH people.”

A former civil engineer, he joined a Deaf club (Southampton, then Coventry), before becoming involved with the Midland Regional Council. He was elected onto the BDA Executive Council for 30 years, becoming a Grand Councillor, Vice Chair and then Chair. “Whilst there, the Deaf Broadcasting Campaign was formed, starting with Maggie Woolley, Arthur Groom, Alan Haythornthwaite and myself in 1980. The aim was to campaign for a weekly programme for deaf and HOH people. The aim soon changed to making television accessible fully. Any success was due to many groups and individuals such as deaf organisations, individual broadcasters, politicians, and the community itself all pulling the same way. The main achievements I would say are See Hear and safeguards within the Broadcasting Acts.”

On being awarded the MBE, Reeves said: “I was embarrassed at first, since the work was always a team effort. Getting the MBE itself on the day was a real experience and my family enjoyed it (minus one son who was backpacking around the world).

The Community Leader: Barrie Curtis

Founder of Cornwall Deaf Centre, Barrie Curtis is a celebrated Deaf community leader, BSL teacher, writer and campaigner. He led efforts to refurbish the Cornwall Deaf Centre, making news headlines. He is a published author, having written a book about the Deaf Community in Cornwall, “Chasing a Dream”. In 1991 he was awarded the “Oloman Ellis Award” for his service to Deaf People and in 1998 he received the British Academy Award for his work and campaigning in British Deaf News.

BDN asked him which Deaf person he found most inspiring? “Jock Young, the first Deaf chair of the BDA that returned it to its former glory. I also admire Dot Miles who taught me sign poetry”. He wants young people to “wake up from their apathy” stand up in support of BSL. “I want Deaf people, old and young to get up and support the Scottish BSL Bill. I want a revolution for Deaf people.”

The Presenter: Clive Mason

Affectionately known for his silver hair and enduring on-screen charisma, Clive Mason has been credited with being one of the first Deaf presenters to use BSL on television.

Whilst at college, the BBC saw Mason in one of Ladd’s BSL research videos and offered Mason a TV presenting job on See Hear in 1984. In 2005, Mason was presented with a lifetime achievement award at the Remark! Film & TV Awards for his activism in Deaf issues. He was also presented with The BDA’s coveted BSL Public Image Award in 2012. To date, Mason is the longest-serving member of BBC’s See Hear staff.

The Director: Jenny Sealey MBE

Graeae’s Theatre Company’s Artistic Director since 1997, she was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Honours in 2009 and became an Artistic Advisor for Unlimited 2012 Festival. 

Jenny co-directed the London 2012 Paralympic Opening Ceremony alongside Bradley Hemmings. She also won the Liberty Human Rights Arts Award and in 2012 was named on the Time Out London and Hospital Club h.Club100 list of the most influential people in the creative industries. 

Since 2012 Jenny has been awarded an honorary doctorate degree in Drama from Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, in Performing Arts from Middlesex University and a Fellowship at Central School of Speech and Drama.

At the helm: 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.

Published in BDN April 2015 issue