The Deaf are not dumb. Don’t be deaf to the deaf
- Ephphatha – The Greek form of a Syro-Chaldaic or Aramaic word, meaning “Be opened,” uttered by Christ when healing the man who was deaf and unable to speak (Mark 7:34).
There are 1.3 billion people in India. According to the 2011 Indian Census, there are about 1.3 million people who have a hearing impairment. That makes up roughly about 1 percent of our population. This is the number of people with total hearing loss, but there are many people with varying degrees of hearing impairment who do not fall into this category. The consolidated figure amounts to over 7 percent of the population of the country according to the National Association for the Deaf, India.
What is deafness
Deafness and hearing loss is often called the hidden disability because there are no obvious physical signs unless someone begins to sign, speak, or read lips, so the deaf suffer in silence.
There are two distinct groups with hearing loss. “Hard of hearing” is defined as a functional loss of hearing but not to the extent that the person must rely primarily on visual communication. “Deaf” is defined as a person who must primarily depend on visual communication such as sign language, writing, and lip reading. The degree of hearing loss varies for each individual.
Understanding the deaf
Let us learn some useful tips to interact with a wide range of people who are deaf or hard of hearing. One important thing to remember is that we should not assume or generalize that not everyone fits in the same category of hearing loss and ability. Since there are few visible cues to hearing loss it can be difficult for anyone to know when they are approaching a person who is deaf or hard of hearing. The easiest way to know is by communicating with them. Keep in mind you might feel awkward or uncomfortable communicating with a person who is deaf or hard of hearing. Remember, they might feel uncomfortable too. Being able to quickly assess the hearing ability of an individual could prevent a potential misunderstanding.
Different types of deafness
Broadly there are two medical reasons for deafness, one is conductive loss and the other is a sensoneural loss. The problem of the child deaf from birth is quite different from that of the adult who has become completely deafened after school age or in adult life. The hard of hearing person whose deafness has developed slowly over the years is different again. But, for all of them, the handicap is the same – the handicap of the silent world, the difficulties of communicating with the hearing and speaking world.
Let us get into the silent world to understand an important deaf issue. All deaf persons face many issues and barriers throughout life. Let us as the hearing people breakdown and smash those barriers encountered by the deaf. The main barrier is communication. Sign language is just like any other language used to communicate. Just as you communicate in a language such as English, Kannada, or Hindi, there is a special language used by the hard of hearing called “Sign Language”. Now there are various types of Sign languages in the world based on the geographical area. Some of the sign languages are the American Sign Language (ASL), the British Sign Language (BSL), and the Indian Sign Language (ISL). In a country with over 28 languages, ISL is another language used by people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
Deafness should no longer be a social stigma
Just as a person wearing spectacles is not considered blind, a deaf or hard of hearing person wearing visible hearing aids should also not be labeled as dumb.
Hearing impairment is a serious but grossly neglected condition in India. It is grossly underreported and underserved. This under-reporting creates an invisibility of these people and it has serious consequences, particularly in terms of government services and accessibility. The country also suffers a huge economic impact due to lost productivity, higher unemployment, and lower wages for the hearing impaired. The real issue in India is the woeful inadequacy of facilities of any type for the deaf. We should ensure that the governments appoint certified sign language specialists to help the deaf transact in all government and public offices such as police stations, banks, and other public and private institutions. We should sensitize the people about the challenges faced by the deaf and hard of hearing in daily life. There was a time when there was a weekly news bulletin on Doordarshan Television channel for the deaf and hard of hearing. With a plethora of television channels today, I am not sure if there is any channel that is exclusively dedicated to the deaf and hard of hearing. But thanks to social media platforms such as Youtube. There are tons and tons of content promoting sign language and offering a window of expression for the deaf and hard of hearing.
The High Court of Delhi pronounced a landmark judgement on February 14, 2011, that allows deaf persons to go through the test and drive if they are found capable. Thus, for the first time in the country permitted deaf people to legally drive a vehicle. Prior to then, the motor vehicle acts and rules automatically disqualified a deaf person from obtaining a driving license.
India celebrates the International Week for the Deaf in September, and September 26 is recognized as the “Day of the Deaf” in India.
What can you and I do
• We should all make attempts to learn sign language and speed up the spread of ISL.
• We should form support groups and get involved in their activities and create opportunities for them in the mainstream of society.
• Join a support group that gives an opportunity to learn from others’ experiences.
• Support groups are excellent forums for problem-solving and mutual support.
• Lobby with media companies to provide news, current affairs, and entertainment content for the deaf and hard of hearing.
Initiative of the Archdiocese of Bangalore
Under the patronage of the Archbishop of Bangalore His Grace Peter Machado, the Commission for the Differently abled under the guidance of Rev. Fr. George Kananthanam conducts a sign language mass for the deaf and hard of hearing every first Sunday of the month at St. Patrick Church. The mass is conducted in St. Anthony Shrine at 3:00 PM by Fr. George Kalarimuriyil or Fr. Biju, both of whom are certified in ISL. They travel every month from Cannanore and Kottayam respectively to say the sign language mass. The support group in Bangalore is called Ephphatha. Everyone is welcome to participate in this mass and extend their support.
”DON’T be deaf to the deaf”
The deaf and hard of hearing adapt quite well to live a normal family life, they hold full-time jobs, and contribute to the economy of the country. They do not need our sympathy, they just want to be accepted in the mainstream of society without any discrimination.
For more information on the Indian Sign Language mass.
Call: +91 9880274710 (Sunny Kuruvilla)
Whatsapp +919880143916 (Neethu George)