Published: 22nd September 2018
International Day for the Deaf: These four Indian teachers are a 'sign' that all is well
We bring to you four diverse teachers - from different parts of the country, different backgrounds, different purposes and with different stories - who are shaping the deaf generation of the future
Most people who are hearing impaired often hold their own in a school, college or workplace because of their superhero-like ability to lip read and use their hands to 'sign' what they're trying to say. But have you ever wondered where they pick up this viral skill from and, considering children start speaking before they're two, from what age they're taught something that is second nature?
The answer lies in the lives and times of educators and special needs teachers who buckle down and work with children who are deaf (and sometimes dumb) to help them learn a language that connects them with people like them, and in a sense, with the world. In an increasingly globalised world, the need to be more inclusive isn't something you could think of, it's something everyone ought to do naturally.
We bring to you four diverse teachers - from different parts of the country, different backgrounds, different purposes and definitely with different stories - who are shaping the deaf generation of the future. This is what they had to say on International Day for the Deaf:
SR Abhaya Francis
St Clare Oral HSS For the Deaf
At 48, Sister Abhaya Francis is synonymous with the voice of the deaf in Kerala. She started her career as a sign language interpreter at St Clare Oral HSS For the Deaf in Kalady, where she is currently posted as the Principal. As a sign language teacher, she has been instrumental in converting Malayalam into sign language and has created an app in collaboration with the Indian Sign Language Research and Training Centre, "The app is called ISL Parenting and it was developed by Jestin Joy who is a research scholar. The primary aim of the app is to help the parents of deaf children learn sign language and it is currently available in Malayalam, English and Hindi and we have been able to convert almost 1500 phrases to sign language. Another key feature is that it can scan Malayalam words using the mobile camera and then convert it as well," says Sr Abhaya, about the app which was launched in July. However, her service is not just restricted to her classrooms but goes beyond it — from conducting mass to courtrooms, Sister Abhaya has been pushing to make public spaces more accessible to the deaf.
Anupriya Pandian is a sign language trainer and interpreter at v-shesh, which provides learning and skill development services to unserved consumers in 3 segments, one of which is the disabled community. "We help members of the hearing-impaired community get job ready and also provide workshops for employers to help them provide a conducive environment for the deaf," Anupriya said. Currently, Anurpiya teachers English at the institute, "Many of the deaf students are exempted from English in school so they are found lacking in that subject." Another major part of the training includes helping the candidates develop life skills and communication skills, "The candidates usually are not trained in interview skills or computer skills, sometimes they have trouble even sending emails." Besides this, v-shesh holds sessions and workshops for employers, "Since they have time constraints, employers are not always available for classes but the companies usually have a person who can help interpret for the hearing-impaired employee."
CSI School for the Deaf
James Albert had been a social worker and math teacher for several years before he finally found his calling. He had been interacting with deaf children for years and always wanted to work for them. So when he found out there was a vacancy for the headmaster's post at CSI School for the Deaf, Chennai, he immediately applied and got the job. Since then, it's been an everyday mission to educate these kids using sign language and make them employable citizens. "Sign language is the mother tongue of these children," says Albert, and adds, "But nowadays, it's the oral method or lip reading that's encouraged everywhere, especially in India. Right from kindergarten, we teach speech therapy and how and where to place the tongue. But sign language is still very essential to succeed. Most of the colloquial words though, like 'come here', 'have you eaten', 'where are you going' don't really need special training. Anyone can naturally communicate that," he says. His biggest worry, though, is that even after making them efficient, employers are not willing to hire them.
Heena Singh Koshyari
Training and Educational Centre for Hearing Impaired
A senior analyst at a top investment bank in Mumbai, 26-year-old Heena Singh Koshyari found her true calling when she met the founding members of TEACH — Training and Educational Centre for Hearing Impaired, who cater to hearing-impaired students to facilitate their higher education which the current educational set up in India cannot provide properly for students with special needs. "Their purpose and plight struck me and I knew immediately that I needed to be part of this change. It was time that someone stood up and took the onus to work towards improving the condition of these students," says Heena Singh, who has been a part of the NGO since 2016 and is now a board member. "My day job helps me pay for my daily expenses but working for TEACH makes me feel that this is the place where I really belong. I have always been inspired and motivated to be a part of a social change. TEACH came my way just in time to make me realise this is the time to go big in what I have always believed in." Heena helps out during classes with Fariya Korlekar, teaching basic maths to the students at TEACH.