The poor representation of 12 million people with hearing impairment in education, employment and participation in nation building is due to the failure of policy makers and society at large, says Arun Rao of Deaf Way in conversation with Parvinder Singh.1. Please introduce our readers to your work and association with disability issues in general and rights of hearing impaired in particular.
I am a parent of a deaf girl. My perspective on the issue of disability and rights of disabled people stems from my individual experience of trying to understand how best to allow my daughter to live her life, as parents we try and mould a child’s life as per our own perspective. However, children must be allowed to live and evolve as per their own perspective of themselves and what they want to be. The point is that a child is to live beyond the life span of their parents.2. Could you please specifically state areas of activity of Deaf Way?
The Deaf Way is an organisation working in the area of interests of people with hearing impaired. The Deaf Way conducts a number of programmes beneficial to the deaf in various parts of India including Delhi, Chandigarh, Bhopal, Varanasi, Dehradun, Patna, Shimla, Hyderabad, Jaipur and Indore. The programmes include vocational training and placement services, Interpreting services, counselling for youth and also for the parents of deaf children, leadership Training and personality development, Sign Language Seminars, Deaf education methodology Seminars for schools and so on. We are now running two educational centres in Delhi and in Hyderabad to empower deaf people through education and vocational training enabling them to support themselves and their families in the future. We publish a magazine called “The Deaf Way”. It is the first magazine of its kind in India on Deaf issues. “The Deaf Way” is a nonprofit publication and is distributed free of charge to deaf persons and all institutions of the deaf in India.
3. What is the status of this section of society in terms of education, employment and participation?
Organisationally, Deaf Way has been active since 1996 and my own association personal association with the issue is about 25 years old. In terms of Education, the approach to education of hearing impaired people has been very poor, narrow and not based on empirical evaluation of what result it has yielded. What I mean is that there is no accountability in terms of truly educating a deaf person, or taking them to a certain standard. There is no stock-taking of what happens to these people who apparently get to attend special schools but do not get educated. Do they end up with enough skills to get employed? How do they compare vis-à-vis their peers?
In terms of employment, since acquiring skills is integrally linked to effective education, the situation in extremely poor. In fact, it will not be an exaggeration to state that the skill acquirement under current state of affairs is minimal and this translates into unemployment of hearing impaired people.
So far as participation is concerned, it will not be too far fetched to say that the participation of people with hearing impairment is missing and whatever one sees on some committees is for the sake of window decoration.
4. Inclusive Education has received a major impetus since Human Resource Minister Arjun Singh unveiled an Action Plan. What are the specifics that are needed in terms of facilities and teaching methods for hearing impaired students?
In principle, I think it sounds good, but in practice the costs involved are huge. A lot needs to be done in terms of infrastructure. Let me give you an example, in United Kingdom every deaf child and their parents are giving a choice between several teaching methods, like sign method, total communication and oral communication. Maybe by 2025 things could be different, but today or in the near future it seems a little far fetched. The facilities as of now are lacking in terms of methods, materials and personnel. How Braille books, or speaking books have been prepared or made available? All I can say now is that a mammoth undertaking is needed before the situation is right for total implementation of Inclusive Education, and for our country the costs involved, in making this model a quick reality, are prohibitive.
5. Lack of standardised sign language seems to be the main stumbling block in the progress of hearing impaired people. What efforts are being made in this direction?
None is my answer to the second part of the question about efforts. Let me explain a bit about the issue. Sign language is created by children with hearing impairment and passed on to seniors through interaction.
Consequently, each group has its own set of peculiarities that belies generalisations. It is only when they join the adult community that they develop some universal commonalities. This clearly shows the complexity of the whole exercise. To use another analogy, each word of English language has numerous synonyms. The word “round” has 67 different meanings. On the basis of these examples we can easily grasp the difficulty involved in standardisation.
What we need to do is to increase vocabulary of the sign language, meaning new signs. The process would need a few people with hearing impairment and a linguist to get together and a sign textbook as they have in the United States. But the most important consideration that must be followed in such an initiative is that sign language has to be developed and created by people with hearing impairment.
6. Anything you may like to share with the DNIS readers on the issue?
Deaf Way is committed to furthering the disability rights movement, while looking at developing leadership that has an appeal at the grassroots level. The current leadership in the deaf sector has no following and hold of the sector as it fails to reach out and is restricted. The sector has to see the evolution of linkages between the city-based activists and the countrywide population of people with hearing impairment. Further, after over five decades of independence, the inability of the Government to change situation for people with hearing impairment is a failure that must be owned up by it.