Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Deaf not dumb

"Any language is just a language, a mode of communication"

If anyone is not able to communicate in the most acceptable language; should the person be treated as an outcast?

We talk a lot about bias prevalent in our society against specific gender, castes, religion, region etc but the most common bias we have is against people who are suffering from any kind of physical or mental limitation.

How many times have we ignored or have been biased towards anyone with any limitation or any deformity? Have we even considered giving them the chance of a normal life?

Have we ever questioned the definition of being normal?

Think what is life without a sound? What is the importance of a sound, a hush, a child’s cry, a loud giggle, a sob, a heart to heart and a gossip?

We may never be able to answer this question, because we can never create an absence of sound. Yes there are a lot of forms of physical limitations that we can create, experience and try to empathise but we can’t erase sound and we can’t understand the pain of its absence.

Hearing disability/limitation is hence more difficult to understand and empathise. And it is very easy to put deafs in the bracket of Deaf and dumb!!

But being deaf is not being dumb and being deaf is not being abnormal.

One my closest friend has a 6 year old daughter who cannot hear. I have seen her struggle, struggle with people, struggle with family and struggle with herself with each passing day.

I have been asked multiple times why does she not attend a special school in our neighbourhood. That school is designed for children with mental limitations, not for children with hearing disability. And even after explaining this most of them are not able to see the difference. If the child can’t hear, the child is deaf and dumb or has a mental illness.

All disabilities are kept in the same basket. All disabled are outcasts in our society.

The child in focus here did her pre-primary at normal schools (schools teaching in English language with no training in sign language). The last school was very nice, she was loved and they did try but no one was trained to handle a child with hearing disability and hence they struggled.

She was old enough to know basic concept of numbers and written language but she had limited knowledge. The parents had limited knowledge. After a lot of struggle they have finally managed to figure out a school dedicated to people/children with hearing disability.

Now the child is repeating her pre primary. Learning and unlearning things. But last few years have been a nightmare for parents and the kid. There was a lot of frustration of not knowing any way to help inspite of having the best information source readily available. These were parents who are highly educated settled in one of the biggest cities in India. I shiver to think about parents in smaller cities and having limited access to information.

One question has been eating me for years,How do we help them, support them?

In the context of this question, the efforts of Ruma Roka and Noida Deaf Society are commendable.

“The Vision of Noida Deaf Society is to mainstream the Deaf people into the community through specialized vocational programs leading to gainful employment”

A peek into it here:

This video and her ideas were like a breath of fresh air. First few seconds shocked me; yes this is what I have been trying to communicate for years “Absence of sound”. And she did it in such an easy and simplified manner.

It was so refreshing to see someone not going through this in any form, and still showing this much empathy. Not only did she empathise but she jumped in to help, support and guide them for a better future.

If she can do it why can’t we?

Isn’t it just an adjustment of our belief of what is normal and what is not?

Why do we have the need to typecast and put everything in brackets defined already?

There is a need, a need to be sensitive about looking at things which do not fall in the bracket of normal. We need to first look at ourselves and question how comfortable are we to embrace someone not able to communicate with us in our language.

Don’t we try and communicate with someone who doesn’t talk/understand the languages we know? Yes we do!

So why can’t we look at hearing disability like that only. The person is just unable to communicate in a verbal language but that is not a judgement of that person’s intellect or efficiency.

We need to make a change and internalise the fact that any person’s efficiency is not driven by his/her Gender, cast, religion and physical abilities.

I urge anyone who knows any person with this disability to become more sensitive, support more, treat them normally and interact with them more.

Hence come the point, what can we do as an individual and as a society?

1) Wipe off the definition of normal and abnormal and be sensitive towards differently abled: This is a change that needs to happen at an individual level. We need to be more sensitive and we need to teach our next generation to be more sensitive towards people who do not fall in the normal bracket.

2)Communicate with people with hearing disability: Yes do not gape and run away. Try and communicate. Interact like normal human beings. They are as normal as we are; it is just a hearing disability. It is not a benchmark of their efficiency. They can be excellent readers, can hold any professional position!

Some of the things that can be taken care of while communicating with people with hearing disability:

1.Pay attention: Pay more attention than normal because they are talking with hands and gestures.

2.  Don’t get distracted by sounds around you

3. Stay in their sight

4.Do not yell, they can’t hear you. Verbal signs/Lip movements without sounds also will work.

5. Be patient and polite

6. If you are not efficient at signs and are not able to communicate properly, try putting it down on a paper or if mobile is more handy you can always type and communicate.

7. Deaf people especially children are more energetic and hyper than normal because that is one way of taking out energy physically for them. Again be patient.

8. The physical boundaries of deaf people are different then people who can hear. It may not be okay to touch people you don’t know normally but when you are communicating with anyone with hearing disability, it is okay to touch them on shoulders or arm to draw their attention. And be prepared for the same from them.

9.   There are a lot of ways of communicating with a deaf person even if we don’t know sign language. We just need to put in extra efforts, not feel awkward and be patient

3)Children should be taught in schools the value of being sensitive towards people with disability. This education should start at an early age, before opinions are formed or firmed. This can be aided with live examples of meeting such kids. Some of the ideas are
·         Common games
·         Educational project
·         Extracurricular activities etc

Of course this is possible only if led by a group of teachers trained in sign language, aiding and guiding the interaction.

4)Same process can be led at a professional level also. If companies are reluctant in directly hiring them, it can be project led. A common forum can be organized to see how all of them can interact more easily and work in a convenient environment.

5)Communicate and promote Role models: There are a lot of successful people with hearing disability. Promote them in schools and colleges. This will not only provide a positive boost to the people with hearing disability but also serve as a witness of their efficiency.  

Ofcourse as I have been saying, it is important that we change our attitude towards things that are different than normal. This change has to start at grass root level. At my and your home. Lets teach our children the values of being sensitive and treating everyone as equal without any bias.

If they are accepted with open arms without any hesitations, all other initiatives will automatically follow.

Let’s all work together, not focus on their disability and accept them as normal “Normal people with different abilities”

To volunteer for Noida Deaf society please click here

This post is written for The Idea Caravan contest by Franklin Templeton Investments partnered with the TEDxGateway Mumbai and Indiblogger 


  1. Very true. Unless we full-heartedly support these special kids and their parents, it's going to be hell for them. As decent human beings, it's our duty to ease their path toward peace and acceptance.

  2. Hi I need to get in touch with you regarding a business proposition can mail me your contact details at the earliest.
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  3. Very thoughtful Sfurti. Life examples make it real and relevant.

  4. Our society has certain set patterns which it does not want to break and this can be broken only by awareness.

    1. Agree Vandana. A lot of education and awareness :)


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