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DEAFNESS IS NOT HELPLESSNESS!

Lack of academic success is not due to the fault of the deaf themselves but because of our failure to stimulate them intellectually during their school years

– Dr Bill Watts

Imagine having ear plugs in your ears blocking you from the worldly noise around you. You have arrived in a soundless world. You can’t hear a pin drop. How do you know what is happening around you? How do you learn? What do you see?

Trapped in a hearing impaired body, your eyes become your gateway to the world. You gather information visually. From the basic ABC’s to computers and many skill-oriented courses today – deaf students face many challenges in their day-to-day lives. And more than often, their challenges in the classroom are over-looked. While people with normal hearing ability constantly absorb new information and knowledge through the daily noises, conversations and language that is spoken around them, deaf students do not have that luxury.

Meeting the deaf people

I had never met a deaf person in my life yet. When I was told that I have to go and train deaf trainers at Noida Deaf Society, I wondered how I would communicate my ideas to the deaf people. Would they understand me? I was aware that there would be an interpreter translating my words into sign language- the language of deaf. But would that really work? Would the interpreter correctly translate what I spoke? What would be the intelligence quotient of the deaf people? Or that of the interpreter?

When I reached Noida Deaf Society and met the deaf students and trainers, I was pleasantly surprised by the seeming normalness of their hearing impaired world. We were standing outside the Noida Deaf Society with a senior personnel of Noida Deaf Society and a deaf employee at the Society was enquiring her if we had any problem reaching the office. The road had collapsed nearby. They communicated using sign language and we watched their non-verbal interaction in amusement of a first-timer. They were comfortable with their surroundings, efficiently communicating through sign language. They greeted us ‘Hello’ with hand gestures and a welcoming smile on their face. We smiled back not wanting to showcase our incapability at using sign language or confusing them trying it. You would think they would be different from us with their hearing-disabilities, but they are really like us, just that the verbal language is substituted by non-verbal sign language. They may be bereft of hearing ability, but they have a brain that works as well as us though they may be disadvantaged by the ease with which we gain information from the outside world. And then there is their motivation to learn.

Training of Trainers

We trained them in Data Entry Operator (BPO) course. The curriculum for this course is divided into five modules:

  1. Typing Skills
  2. Basic IT
  3. Data Entry Skills
  4. Professional Skills
  5. Health and safety at work place

During the training when I interacted with the deaf trainers, I found that they have a good knowledge of IT skills and they were very good at using computers. We actually sailed through that part of the course training. Quite unexpectedly so! I hadn’t assumed that deaf are dumb. But I definitely didn’t expect them to be as good as they were at it. The NDS wanted us to teach them logical reasoning skills, so we built some exercises to test their reasoning abilities and filled the course content with it. Nothing better to sharpen your mental abilities than exercising your brain with some logical reasoning questions. They do wonders for concentration and focus.

Of course when they had a difficulty in understanding what I was saying or when they didn’t feel involved, their concentration drifted but that is something that is bound to happen to a hearing person too. The way to resolve this maybe is keeping them engaged by giving them real-life examples, involving them and asking for their ideas to make sure we are on the same page. And of course by making the content and training more visual through pictures and videos and more activity-based than theoretical.

I wondered during the training if the interpreter was understanding and translating exactly what I was trying to convey. I may be talking IT (Information Technology), they may be talking IT (India Today).  Covering training majorly through videos and subtitles can be a way to resolve miscommunication because of misinterpretation by interpreter.

It is difficult for deaf students to build a good vocabulary, so we made our content language easy and simple to understand. Given their trouble remembering and recalling information, we decided we can experiment with allowing students to record lectures, given the available technology on smartphones.

Professional Skills

One of the greatly appreciated part of our training was Professional Skills. NDS said that Professional Skill is a huge skill gap in the deaf community. Given their inability to intake proper information from their surroundings, things are easily misunderstood and minus the hearing power, they may not be able to perceive what business etiquettes and manners are. Professional Skills are not formally imparted by schools and colleges. So we taught them what constitutes work behaviour, what are time management skills, punctuality, team work, conflict management, empathy and how to communicate effectively. Communicating, that too effectively is imperative for deaf people because they are missing the important component of listening. Like any layman, they have to be taught what professional skills are, to mould their scattered understanding into something concrete.

Our Training Approach and Methodology – ‘GETS’

RuralShores Skills Academy has adapted a training methodology to drive its training process – ‘GETS’ (Guide, Educate, Train, Support). We teach the trainers to employ this technique to ensure effective training in an appropriate time frame. Mentoring trainers and students properly is important to ensure the success of a business and ensuring that training efforts are not misguided that may waste both employees’ time and the company’s resources. This is what we applied on the trainers and asked them to apply it on their students.

Guide – Mentoring, guiding and counselling the students in finding their interests and giving them a direction

Educate – Inventing and reconditioning methods and process of training for ensuring effective learning.

Train –Showing them how to do it and then letting them do it

Support – Encourage, encourage, encourage! Create an atmosphere of appreciation and support where students can learn and thrive”.

Education is a powerful tool to help anyone stand on their feet, especially the deaf students as it helps break down institutional barriers and build self-confidence. We must not live under the mistaken belief that deaf students are slow-witted and helpless. Such a belief and their perception of such beliefs through us will only lower their self-esteem. Most deaf children have normal cognitive abilities. All we need to do is provide them with a supportive and inclusive learning environment and help them succeed.

–  Shruti Patwal

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