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etty G. Miller was born in 1934, and her parents were both Deaf. Betty had two older brothers who were hearing, so everyone just assumed that Betty was too, especially because she could clearly hear a little bit. It was a surprise to everyone in her family when she attended Kindergarten for the first time and was diagnosed as Hard of Hearing. This threw her family for a loop. Remembering all the prejudice and oppression they had experienced at the hands of hearing people, Betty’s parents decided that they wanted her to make the most use of whatever hearing she had. This is why they made the surprising decision to send her to Bell School in Chicago – a school known for Oralistic practices. Later, Betty’s parents took her out of Bell School and switched her into a regular mainstream school. But the mainstream school didn’t have speech therapy, so Betty went to still another school in the evenings to be tutored in speech.
Betty did the best she could at these schools, and was a very successful student. She got her degree in Art Education from Pennsylvania State University , but it wasn’t until she started to teach at Gallaudet University that things seemed to click for her. She finally felt the sense of belonging that she had missed out on in her mainstream school career. Betty’s art focused completely on the Deaf experience, depicting the oppression Deaf people face at the hands of hearing, and also exhibiting the joy of sign that can be found throughout the Deaf community. Many of her paintings depict puppet-like deaf people – no doubt a response to all her speech therapy classes. Artwork that focused entirely on the Deaf experience was an entirely new form of artwork in the 1970’s, and came to be called “Deaf View/Image Art.” Or De’VIA Betty was one of the early pioneers of this form of art.
Betty’s first one woman show took place at Gallaudet University in 1972, entitled “The Silent World”. It was so successful, that throughout the 1970s’, she continued to have shows frequently at Gallaudet. They were all very well received. This spurred a series of one woman shows throughout the 1980’s and ‘90’s, and also many collaborative shows with other Deaf artists. In 1993, Betty put on a showcase of eight Deaf artists, which was the largest collection of De’VIA that had ever taken place.
After 13 years of teaching at Gallaudet, Betty decided it was time to move on. After a time touring around the country putting on shows, she became a Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor – the first Deaf person to ever do so. This has allowed her to have a rewarding career helping other Deaf people overcome serious addiction problems, and also educating other Drug and Alcohol counselors on how best to work with Deaf people. She has published a book about her and others experiences entitled “Deaf and Sober: Journeys Through Recovery” which she has both authored and illustrated.
Betty is currently in her 80’s. Unfortunately, she has suffered from some memory loss and doesn’t create art very often anymore. When she does, it’s usually in Neon – a medium she discovered in the late 1990’s. Still, her pioneering efforts in the field of De’VIA will always be remembered as some of the greatest contributions of the 20th century art world. Without Betty, the world would be a little less bright and a little less Deaf-aware.