Shattering the sound barrier

PAROMITA PAIN | Updated on November 08, 2012

In India, where 63 million deaf people stare at a bleak future owing to a lack of crucial skills, the Noida Deaf Society is giving them the education and confidence to face the world. (Credit: NDS)

Special education: The Noida Deaf Society offers a visual vocational training course that enables youngsters with hearing impairment find jobs at leading multinational and other companies. (Picture courtesy: NDS)

Job-ready training is enabling youngsters with hearing impairment to embark confidently on attractive career paths.

Her hearing disability had meant that Usha Kumari couldn’t dream beyond her secondary school education. But today, this bright 26-year-old woman is a member of the security team at the Vivanta by Taj group of hotels and proudly contributes to her family’s income.

Her turning point came through the Indian Sign Language and Communication in English, as well as computing skills she acquired at the Noida Deaf Society. Another NDS alumnus, Gayatri Devi is employed with the housekeeping team at Delhi’s Taj Mahal Hotel. The NDS helped her polish her communication skills and, more importantly, carve an identity of her own.

Her father is happy to see her economically independent. “Gayatri is living a respectable life, something that I never believed she would be capable of,” he says.

Ruma Roka wants more parents of disabled girls to show this positive change in attitude.

When Ruma set up the Noida Deaf Society in 2005, she knew that educating and empowering the hearing impaired to find worthwhile employment was top priority. But she also wanted to draw attention to the education system in India for those with hearing impairment.

“Teaching here means making them capable of speech. As they can’t hear, even if their voice boxes work perfectly they can’t produce proper speech. They have limited vocabularies to start with. Yet, year after year, they are expected to sit in classes that teach them as if they can hear. They are then expected to regurgitate answers learnt by heart during exams. What purpose does this serve?” she asks.

Researching education options for this special group, Ruma realised that sign language was not encouraged and the available resources restricted them to menial jobs without any prospect of developing their inherent talent. “In India, 63 million people with hearing impairment miss out on crucial skills because of lack of resources. The approximately 500 government-aided schools have an oral approach and don’t encourage sign language,” she says.

An important component of the teaching at NDS involves understanding how people with hearing impairment learn. “They think differently. They learn through context,” explains Ruma. “There is no direct translation of subjects into sign language. We have to create a context and translate that into sign language to help them understand the content. They are visual learners.”

So NDS developed a visual vocational training course that uses a combination of words, videos and pictures. “Remember, their whole perspective of the world is through their eyes,” says Ruma.

From starting off with classes at a two-bedroom flat given by Ruma’s husband, NDS today has two branches — in Prem Nagar, Delhi, and Hissar, Haryana — and teaches for free thanks to donations from philanthropic organisations. But it is proudest about its 500-and-counting students who have been hired by leading multinational and other companies such as Mphasis, Barista and the Taj group of hotels.

For Ruma, keeping her students motivated is as important as training them to join the workforce. “People around them seem to be blind to their needs as human beings,” she says, adding, “Parents would say their hearing impaired child was like a stone around their neck. They are rarely made a part of family decisions. Girls, of course, have the worst. Parents never stop trying to get them married, taking huge loans and giving dowries beyond their means. No thought is paid to how they will handle the pressures that come with relationships like marriage.”

While not many girls are enrolled at present, the NDS doesn’t give them conventional options such as embroidery or craft classes. They are taught computers and communication skills.

Ruma wants to start a campaign to encourage more girls to join NDS.

“I started with five students,” she recalls, “And they taught me that the hearing impaired were cut off from mainstream jobs because they didn’t know English and didn’t have computer skills.”

It takes about a year-and-a-half to get a student completely job-ready. The instructors too are hearing impaired as the school believes they can best understand the needs of their pupils. There are sessions for corporates too, to enable them to see how people with hearing impairment can add value to their company.

She cites loyalty as a major plus, as the employee rarely leaves the company hiring him/her. A tie-up with NIIT helped the school source computers as well as teachers for graphic designing and desktop skills. Today, its desktop courses are certified by NIIT.

Ruma isn’t sure why she chose to work with hearing impaired students in particular, but remembers always nurturing a desire to teach children who had no easy access to schools.

“When I wanted to learn the Indian sign language I couldn’t find any information,” she remembers. “People were very surprised when I went to the Ali Yavar Jung National Institute for the Hearing Handicapped to learn it. Unlike the others in my class of five, I had no child, relative or friend with hearing impairment. There is a huge gap here that must be addressed fast.”

Finding teachers for her students was also tough. “Some of my students later trained to teach here,” she says. A vibrant volunteer programme allows people from different areas to contribute their bit.

Ruma plans to work on creating more digital-based learning material for improving English literacy and increasing computer access in the future. “Communication and computers will help my students show the world their true strength,” she asserts.

© Women’s Feature Service

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Published on November 08, 2012
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