Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Hear Me Out

I had done this story on the Day of the Deaf (September 26) and International Week of the Deaf (which is the last week of September). I loved talking to Deepti Kelkar, the hearing impaired artiste. Some of her paintings are really good. I have not included the complete interview in the story.

On my first day in the senior college, I saw a new, pleasant-faced girl sitting on the first bench in the classroom. She looked a bit upset after the first class and I wondered why. For the next week or so, it was the same pattern.
One day I went up to her and asked what was troubling her. Asawari Bedge, my new friend, told me that she was deaf. She had to sit on the first bench so that she could lip read the lecturer. That was my first meeting with a hearing impaired student. And, I suddenly woke up to the fact that the 'normal' youngsters like me were unaware of the needs of someone like Asawari.
Asawari was one of the few lucky hearing impaired people – she could hear and speak just like you and me – thanks to early intervention and timely diagnosis by her parents and the doctor.

Early Diagnosis
In most cases, parents or the kin of the child realise very late that he doesn't respond to their calls.
Many parents discover that their child is unable to hear when he is two or three years old. The time lost is precious. If he doesn't hear, he also loses the ability to speak,” says
Shubhangi Ogale, the Principal of Modern College of Special Education.
Ogale, who earlier headed the Deaf Unit at Modern English School, says, “Once it's known that the child has lost hearing or has acquired deafness, the parents have a big role to play. First, they have to get the BERA test done to find the level of deafness. And, according to the result get their child the hearing aids. Secondly, they have to SPEAK and SPEAK with the child. Third, the parents have to play the picture game with their ward. In the picture game, they have to label each and every object of the house – flower pot, tap, fan, cot – and point out the objects and repeat the names. By the time, the child is four or five, he has to know his surroundings.”
It does sound very daunting. Do the parents need any counselling?
Yes. We have a parent-infant programme wherein we brief the parents about the problems they could face while rearing hearing impaired children. We stress on the fact that the children are normal and have to be treated as such. We also insist that the parents attend speech therapy classes along with the children. The children have to learn how to speak,” says Ogale firmly.
Vinny Fernandes, Headmistress, New Dawn Ashadeep School, Vasco, adds, “The parents of children with hearing disabilities need to be more patient and be in constant touch with the teachers.”
In some cases, the teachers who have children with special needs in their class, also need to be counselled.
Often when a teacher turn to write on the blackboard with his back towards the students, the deaf pupils, who can't lip read then, immediately begin to talk in the sign language. We then explain to the teacher to stand in a slanting position. We also encourage them to make use of audio-visual mediums as deaf students can benefit from it,” explains Ogale.
The teachers, who are a part of the Deaf Unit, or teach students with other disabilites, are specially trained for the job. Every five years they have to attend the refreshers course - Continued Rehabilitation Education (CRE) programmes.

Bright Side
Both Ogale and Fernandes say that the hearing impaired children are on par with the normal children. They might be weak in languages, but often excel at non-verbal subjects like sports and painting.
One such youngster is Deepti Shah Kelkar, an ex-student of Shubhangi Ogale, who is a budding artiste.
Deepti, who has 95% hearing loss, was a victim of improper medical attention when she was 9 months old. At the age of 2, her elder sisters discovered that she was not responding to their calls, and was then taken to the doctor.
However, Deepti doesn't believe that she is missing out on life or on opportunities. She happily talks to us about her school days, Alka tai (Alka Hudlikar, her speech therapist) and painting. When we don't understand, her elder sister, Shilpa Kelkar, explains things.
Deepti's talent for painting was discovered by Anuya Naik, her teacher at Deaf Unit in Modern School. She was the one who compelled her to appear for the intermediate examination in drawing.
Narrating one funny incident in school, Deepti says, “When the teacher turned her back towards the class, I used to get busy drawing. All my classmates used to thrust their incomplete drawing assignments at me. I used to finish those for my friends.”
Deepti and her sister, are all praise for Alka tai.
Deepti started going to Alka tai for speech therapy at the age of three and continued till she was 18. Alka tai didn't let Deepti use her hands to communicate. She was very harsh and we often cried for Deepti. But, tai was firm that if Deepti had to survive amongst the normal people, she had to learn to speak. Now seeing Deepti so confident and independent, we realise that tai was right then.”
After completing her SSC with 58%, Deepti did the Chitralekha Niketan's Foundation Course in drawing and painting, followed by a four year course in Abhinav Kala Vidyalay.
Deepti met her husband, Jaisal Shah, at the Deaf Club. Now, she has got her own studios, takes up independent assignments. Deepti also won a Spic Macay scholarship. She had submitted her work at the behest of Alka tai, who takes interest in her students, long after they stop coming to her for therapy.
Shobha Tendulkar, Headmistress, Lok Vishwas Prathisthan Virani Isani High School, Ponda, believes, “With education and proper training, the hearing impaired students can lead a fairly normal life. Seven such students from Lok Vishwas Prathisthan answered the Goa board SSC exams this year and passed. One of my students was working in a jewellery trade. I got inputs from her boss who said that she was extremely good at her job.”


Integrated teaching necessary
Shubhangi Ogale is a firm advocate of integrated teaching. “If hearing impaired children study with normal students and see them chattering away and whispering, they would long to be a part of the group. That is an incentive enough for them to learn to speak...”
She also says that the integrated teaching has to be implemented from smaller classes.

Deaf Units in Pune Schools
  1. Modern School
  2. Kanya Shala
  3. Bhave Boys School
  4. Apte Prashala

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