By Shreya Jakhmola:
Watching a boy with hearing impairment speak fluent Bengali might sound as amusing as it left me surprised. 10-year-old Samiran Hansda, with permanent hearing impairment, in a recent meeting of SAHAS, stood in front of over 50 parents and their kids, narrating an essay in his mother tongue. His clarity of speech, volume, inflection, emphasis and effective communication skills reflected in him, a confidence that is hard to find in children afflicted with deafness.
Based in Durgapur, West Bengal, the Speech And Hearing Action Society, commonly referred to as SAHAS, was formed in the year 1998. Engaged with oral rehabilitation of hearing impaired children, the organisation upholds the motto of giving deafness a voice. A child born with deafness is generally forced to dumbness. As it is understood, a child learns to talk through hearing and if hearing itself is damaged there can be no talking. Dumbness is thus taken to be an inevitable consequence of deafness. An invisible condition that deafness is, it manifests into lack of proper speech and communication in those born with it. It may eventually develop into poor learning and, hence, reduced intellect, pushing the child to join the marginalised section of our society, stamped as ‘deaf and dumb’.
Debates on freedom of speech and expression, today, have marked the socio-political landscape of the civil society. People, everywhere, given any issue, talk about how they are being deprived of their right to be heard and express themselves. In the case of auditory-impaired children, there is no choice of questioning to have a right to voice their opinion where there, literally, is no ‘voice’. SAHAS, thus, makes an effort to endow these children with the ability to speak through early hearing detection and intervention. Assisting over 300 kids with their muteness due to lack of hearing, the institution organises monthly meetings with parents and children. The meetings are held with different agendas aimed at equipping parents with skills to deal with their children helping them to speak and learn.
Held on the second Sunday of every month, a workshop was arranged on March 14, 2016, with parents, to teach them methods that could help them prepare their children to take lessons at school. It was headed by Mrs. Madhumita Jajodia and Payal, parents of deaf kids who have achieved success with their children in learning language to qualify for admission into mainstream education institutions. They shared their knowledge and experience with other parents. During the session, parents were briefed with techniques to brace their children mentally for facilitating learning at school. They were given suggestions about introducing kids with concepts of sounds, numbers and alphabets thus helping them to comfortably adapt to the school’s learning environment. The idea behind the workshop was not to encourage parents to replace the teachers’ role in their children’s lives by up-skilling them with the entire syllabus. It was, rather, to tune the kids’ motor and cognitive skills through play crafts such as flash cards, colouring, clay-modelling, puzzles, toys and other games to improve their learning capacity.
Not many people believed that language learning can be imparted to a child with hearing impairment. The only choice, thus, left for these kids was to resort to special schools and sign languages. The concept of ‘residual hearing‘, meaning, the ability to hear some sounds despite considerable hearing loss, is little investigated. It is proven that not every child with hearing impairment is born completely deaf and those born with deafness have some usable residual hearing that can be put to productive use with the help of proper aid. Fostering this residual hearing through auditory-verbal therapy can, thus, help these children learn to speak. However, only children under the age limit of 5 years, can be intervened with, to be introduced to sound and language. Thus, early detection and intervention remains a necessary criterion for treatment of dumbness due to deafness.
With over a million children born to deafness in India, the problem leaves them debilitated, thereby, estranging them from a normal life. Being socially distanced, these children are deprived of their right to live, learn and grow. Inability to communicate through spoken language denies them their wish to dream, let alone, fulfilling them. This forced plight of theirs, owing to the lack of awareness and ignorance in their treatment, reinstates the argument on equality and social justice. Being born unequal does not mean imposing on them, a life of seclusion. These kids have as much right to live and learn as any other so-called ‘normal’ child of the society. To gift their dreams a voice, it is therefore important to treat the misnomer, ‘deaf and dumb’ that they are often labelled with, by spreading across the message of ‘deaf, but not dumb’. Communicate with people around you to and let them know how their contribution can make a difference.