Monday, February 16, 2009

On Deafness and Approach to Inclusion of the Deaf

Inclusion of people with disabilities into mainstream is a topical subject with much discussion as well as research. I came across deafness through a school for the deaf that my friend runs. Through the last two years I have gotten a sense of how inclusion is being attempted for the deaf - both right and wrong.

Nobody really has a count of the deaf in India - some estimates put it at 50 million and there are others that indicate it is closer to 15 million. It probably is on the higher side since it's a disability that the families want to hide. The families consider the birth of a deaf child a curse and would go to extremes like hiding the child forever in their homes -- letting them lead miserable isolated lives. Also, the deaf do not have sympathy value - they look perfectly normal till you attempt to communicate with them. And because of this - they often get missed out in education, support and acknowledgement of their being different.

Inclusiveness for the deaf has been approached in a very odd way in India (continues most places even now). The schools, special educators and the doctors force the deaf to learn to speak and have them participate in the same class and school as the hearing children. I fail to understand the logic - they can't hear - so even if you can make them speak - they still can't hear! So how do they learn? It is logical that they communicate with a different language - a language that is not spoken but is visual. Sign Language.

Inclusiveness would here require the hearing people to expand their own selves and use sign language to communicate with the deaf, just as we expect the deaf to be able to speak with us using voice. Schools in India that use sign language as the medium of instruction are proving to be very effective. See to get an idea.

I have created a page here that initiates the hearing to the world of sign language - Indian sign language.


  1. Hi Neeraj,

    I would like to share my experience at NDS. I found them enthusiastic learners; they are intelligent and have ample of underutilized intellect. Here I agree with Noida Deaf Society's motto “Deaf But Not Dumb”. I must add they are adventurous too. Basic reason for their being away from mainstream is lack of language and vocabulary. I would emphasis on the fact that it is very essential to make them to have enriched vocabulary.
    Bringing them to mainstream needs equal efforts from family and learning institutes.
    I have few suggestions to start with:

    • They should be introduced to basic visual dictionaries.

    • They should be encouraged to read news papers, magazines and other literature.

    • Now with virtual world, there is treasure of information available 24X7.

    • They should also be encouraged to share their thoughts by writing. For instance, we can start a blog where they can share their views.

    Looking forward to comments, suggestions and criticism.

    Posted on March 22, 2009 9:23 PM

  2. Thanks for sharing this Anamika!

    On your suggestions -- I think they all are quite relevant and much needed options. We need mainstream support to make this happen:
    1. One needs to create the visual dictionaries. Needs volunteers and funding.
    2. The blogging option can be tried -- I feel it will be relevant and useful if the hearing community is willing to make the effort of interacting on the blogs etc.
    All inclusivity challenges require the 'endowed' ones to feel the need to include -- expand.

    Posted on March 29, 2009 11:14 PM

  3. Thanks for your valuable inputs. Visual dictionaries are available in the market. I have used these dictionaries; they are targeted at primary school learners.
    No doubt, these dictionaries will enhance vocabulary for the deaf learners.
    For the blog, to make any exercise a success it needs continuous efforts from family and society at large.

    Posted on March 31, 2009 2:13 AM

  4. Hi Neeraj,
    It's really refreshing to read about deafness on your blog.Deafness doesnt invoke very much sympathy or make our hearts bleed in compassion for this completely marginalized silent community.Its amazing how we are moved by disability that is very visual and obvious,yet we are so rigid in our acceptance of a visual language!!Ironical!
    Till today in many schools of the deaf,sign language is considered as the two little bad words. The debate rages on between the educators none of whom are deafened and not many think of taking the opinion of adult deaf on what they feel about this whole vocal language versus visual language or what they feel would be the best method of teaching deaf children.
    A strong first language development(sign language)could lead to easier comprehension of the second language(english, hindi,bengali etc), leading to real education as opposed to just plain memorizing of content.All of this in a happy nurturing, interactive environment leading to true Inclusion of the deaf.
    We truly need the Vidya to break boundaries ,and not 'assume ' that we always know the best about everything.

    Posted on June 10, 2009 10:02 AM

  5. Hi Neeraj, your blog sounds interesting, i've yet to get the hang of it though. I am a hard of hearing person who used to wear the hearing aid. Howeverm barring occassional conversations and phone talk, i find no difficulty in interaction. i work in the disability sector, and yes, deafness is still an invisible disability. mindsets need a drastic change. networking and collaborating with other ngo's is important. the net is a great leveller but is it accessible? Sign language has many things in its facour. you may feel happy by the positive feedback at a recent sign language classes held by our organisation. Do visit our website: www, to know more about us. However, the views expressed here are my own and not that of the organisation.
    Do keep in touch
    Dr V.Janaki

    Posted on July 6, 2009 12:35 AM

  6. Dear Dr Janaki,
    Thanks for your response. I saw your organization's website. Impressive work you are carrying out. Congratulations!

    I cannot say I have any understanding really of disabilities in general and hearing impairment in specific. What I did write here is coming from my little exposure and what impacted me as different and inspiring from the perspective of inclusion in India.

    Will surely stay in touch and may be meet when I am traveling to Chennai.

    All the best to you

    Posted on July 10, 2009 4:45 AM