"Provide the opportunity to deaf people and give them the time to adapt," says Dr. Abdul Hameed, Chairman, Department of Special Education, University of Punjab, Lahore, to Chitra S. Shankar.
There are different schools of thought regarding sign language and speech. Could you share your views and personal experiences?
This is a very old concept. The argument has been on for about half a century and even today no one, including deaf people, has been able to decide as to which is best. Three of my children are deaf. I put my children in special schools and started coaching them at home. Way back in the late ’70s the concept of inclusion was not there. But I realised that we should not be disappointed and should do what we have to. I was in mainstream education, and it was my children who inspired me to enter the field of Special Education. What I have done since then would not have been possible without them.
We need to create opportunities for learning for deaf people and rather than stick to the traditional debate of sign or speech; we need to look at other options. For this, experimentation is required, which we have taken up in the Department of Special Education.
What do you think is the right time for intervention?
I believe it is never too early. As soon as you find that there is hearing loss you should try to develop a parallel communication mode. For this, awareness is very important for parents, family members and other people interacting with the child. Because, whatever the child can see registers in the mind. The child gets trained in lip reading if you speak slowly, and use gestures as well. The crucial period is the first two years after birth when meaningful inputs should be given to the child. Later it becomes a difficult task.
I heard Pakistan has developed Standardised Sign Language. Do you think it is being used effectively?
Pakistan has developed Standardised Sign Language and there are well-designed books in colour print. We are using it in the Special Education Department. But there are certain motions in sign language that cannot be conveyed as effectively through print. So my son, who teaches this, has developed a video of the same. Pakistan’s Sign Language is basically a translation from the English version. You could call it an adaptation. But there is lack of experimentation of this Sign Language which is essential for its expansion.
Personally, I think the term ‘Standardised’ conveys the wrong impression of something being complete and final. Language is dynamic and ever-changing, and you cannot actually ‘standardise’ it. Moreover, in Pakistan, there are many regional variations in sign language. And these differences will remain. Again, family sign language is different. In every family, even among non-disabled people, there is a different way of communicating; a smile or a gesture conveys a special meaning to only the members of that particular family.
What is the Pakistani government’s initiative for the rehabilitation of deaf people? Are there any national institutes for hearing impaired people in your country?
The National School of Special Education and the National Institute of Health for Handicapped in Pakistan work for hearing impaired people too. There is no special institute for them. But there are schools for hearing impaired. Those run by some N.G.O.s are world class. Hamza Foundation Academy is an exemplary institute.
Under Pakistan legislation what are the provisions for hearing impaired people (if any)?
There is 2% reservation for education as well as employment for disabled people. In the private sector, there is also a provision for jobs in industries and the rule states if a company does not employ a disabled person, it should remit the payment amount to a Trust Fund. This amount goes to the government, which later distributes it. But this is not the right approach. Jobs should be ensured for disabled people.
Is there a deaf peoples’ movement in Pakistan ?
Yes, but it is only at the regional, not at the national level. They try to create awareness and some of them work for creating employment opportunities for deaf people. Now there is sports activism as well. But most are working in isolation, resulting in wasted efforts and energy.
What are your views on inclusive education and your comments on the same in India ?
There is no substitute for inclusive education. The setting is natural. Another thing is that 80% of total learning of a person happens through informal education and interaction, and not through the classroom. In mainstream schools there is a lot of experience sharing, while in a special school the opportunities are limited. Again, there is no substitute for the 24-hour interaction in normal settings. At home it’s an inclusive setting and the same is the case in school where everyone tries to communicate with the child. On one of my visits to an inclusive school in Pindi, I asked a child who his best friend was. He pointed to a boy who was deaf. I asked him how he interacted. He started communicating using perfect signs. And the 7-year-old boy was only in Class II!
As for India, I have visited one or two inclusive schools. But I think it is more of integration here than inclusion. In inclusive education the hearing impaired children will be studying in the same class as non-disabled children of their age under the same teacher, with the support of a Special Education teacher. By integration I mean that disabled children are admitted in regular schools but not in the actual class they should be. This approach of integration has failed. We are actually wasting time taking the same long route the western countries had taken. Just like in communication technology in which we are on equal footing with the west, we need to move fast into inclusive education.
Are there any centres for rehabilitation and vocational training for deaf people in Pakistan? If yes, what is their role?
Yes, there are. They have job-oriented training courses, but does the training really help them in this goal? In my view, advocacy is most important. We need to advocate with industries, tell them they should employ deaf people and explain as to how they should go about it. Second, there is a need to make Supervisors in the industries flexible. They have very uniform, standardised procedures and expect that an employee will simply follow their instructions. There is an urgent need to develop proper communication tools.
The concept of Job Counsellor is useful. This person counsels deaf people as well as the employers and supervisors about instructions to be given and in the form for the same. In Pakistan, the Chamber of Commerce and Industries (C.C.I.) is doing a good job. It has created the Lahore Association of Business for Rehabilitation of Disabled (L.A.B.A.R.D.), which focusses on negotiation with industries for employment of disabled people. At present we may not be able to afford this post, but we should start advocating for this.
There is a school-cum-training centre. But the courses are outdated and not marketable anymore. So we started a movement emphasising computer training for deaf people. We worked hard and succeeded too. But we had not foreseen one or two problems. Deaf people are good keyboard operators and are excellent at typing, composing, formatting, etc. But they are not able to understand the task at hand, that is, instructions are not written all the time. Some of the communication is verbal and the feedback needs to be verbal too. This has been a major problem area.
It is important to shift to some sort of specific technical language and also modify the mode of communication a bit so that deaf people can follow easily. Another problem is that, to date, no one has identified or tried to identify what kind of job can be given to them. Research is very important in this area. The U.S.A. has published a Dictionary of Occupational Titles where all possible job titles have been listed alphabetically along with the requirement for that particular job. Anybody can sit down and identify what training can be given to a particular person for a particular job.
There is a need to explore options and to advocate for employment of deaf people in industries. The main reason for industrialists not being too keen to employ deaf people is fear . Fear that deaf people may not be performance oriented and efficient. But this is not true. All the individuals we have given opportunities in the University have constantly surprised us by their excellent performance. The only problem here is that we are over-protective. But we need to strive to create a better environment for them. For this again, we need to tap the potential of the industry.
Another crucial factor is time . Any individual, disabled or non-disabled, needs time to adapt to his surroundings and perfectly fit into his role. It cannot happen overnight. We need to give deaf people the chance and the time to adapt to the new environment and setting. Make the industrialists understand this. And then see the results!