The New Education Policy is being termed as transformative and aims to restructure the entire process to ensure India’s progress in a more comprehensive manner. Inclusion of diverse sectors of the country is one of the integral ingredients that have been adopted by the current Government. Adoption of a uniform sign language is set to bring quality access to those who are Deaf.
Standardization and mainstreaming of the sign language had been a major demand of the various stakeholders working for the empowerment of persons with disabilities.
An important aspect of the NEP is its identification and support for students with learning disabilities. These may go unnoticed and can cause the students’ education to suffer. With the new policies introduced, more awareness is created and allows the support to be provided to the students as early as possible, allowing them to progress much better.
The NEP also seeks to allow students with benchmark disabilities (having at least 40% disability of 21 types of disabilities identified by the RPWD Act, 2016) to have the choice of seeking either regular or special schooling. Students with severe or multiple disabilities will be aided by special educators to provide high-quality homeschooling. This specific move not only seeks to make education for students with disabilities more accessible, but also more developed and uniform.
Till now, different forms of sign languages were running parallel to each other in the country, posing a set of complications, mainly for integration in the classroom activities, access to the co-curricular and vocational programmes which were inclusive in nature, and availing the benefits of essential services due to non-availability of the interpreters and differences in formats of languages.
Data suggests that there are 250 sign-language interpreters in the country. Taking into account the deaf population, which, according to a census in 2011 is estimated at 1.8 million, while the National Association of Deaf India (NAD) puts it at a more realistic estimate of 18 million people, this ratio seems to fit nowhere. This move made by the government would definitely normalize the learning of sign language and contribute to the path to integration.
It is also expected that the adoption of the standards of the sign language would be set only after consultation from the deaf groups across the country so that no one is left behind. The need of the hour is to establish sign language learning institutes by the various state governments which would develop new professionals. This would lead to the post creation of sign language interpreters at various departments.
Sign Language Institutes should also act as facilitation centres for people who have hearing difficulties and who do not have access to learning sign language due to a range of barriers. Online courses providing the training in sign language should also be encouraged by both disability organizations and the government so that the targeted audience can be increased to a large extent.
I feel that sign language needs to evolve as the 23rd official language of the country and be treated in the same light as other languages taught at colleges and universities.
The implementation of standardisation will open new doors of communication with those people with whom we were unable to communicate because of non-availability of a universal and a standard medium.
Sumit Singh a young deaf student activist said, “Just like institutes have entire departments dedicated to teaching foreign languages like French, Spanish or Mandarin, I would love it if institutes around India would adopt ISL and have a dedicated department for teaching it.”
Vipin, another deaf student activist said, “I understand that many regions have their own dialects and languages, but if standardisation of sign language throughout India could help more people become interpreters, I would love to see this change happening.”
If an institution fails to provide all its students with full access to their education, they fail to create a fully integrated society. Adoption of sign language as a part of mainstream education is essential for accessibility of all students with hearing disabilities.
This article is written by Tapas Bharadwaj who is a Disability Rights Activist and Advocate, volunteering with JAF. You can reach the Convenor of JAF Shameer Rishad on Twitter.