Monday, April 23, 2007

Actions speak louder than words…

Few days back while browsing through the newspaper I read about a sign language workshop on last weekend. Thought of enrolling for it just out of curiosity. Before attending the workshop surfed the internet for some background information. In spite attended the workshop, equipped with very little background of sign language, deafness, and none about the hearing impaired people.

Basically it was an introductory workshop to the Indian sign language organized by a Pune based organisation- Avanti ( in association with Ali Yavar Jung National Institute for the Hearing Handicapped, Mumbai. The workshop was meant for hearing as well as hearing impaired people. So, the whole workshop was being interpreted in sign language and vice-versa (I picked up many words in sign language that way).

The workshop was interesting from the very beginning. To give some food for thought we were asked to answer questions like how would each one of us define ‘normal’, ‘natural’ and ‘special’. I found it extremely difficult as unfortunately very few can answer these questions without sounding prejudiced

At the workshop they not just introduced us to sign language (I learnt the alphabets and basic simple sentences in sign language- it was fun and left us wanting for more)but touched upon topics like the different categories of deafness, problems faced by deaf people, about their human rights and so on. A few hearing impaired people shared their experiences and the difficulties they have to face and how easy it is for anyone of us ‘hearing’ people to not even recognize this concern.

The best part about the workshop was that it was interactive in spite of the fact that half the people present at the workshop were hearing impaired and the other half were hearing people.

I wanted to share few of the interesting things that were discussed at the workshop and few that came to my mind…

· I had completely forgotten about this incident until yesterday. During my standard tenth board exams, there was a row of hearing impaired students in my class. They were signing and trying to talk amongst themselves unaware of the sounds they made (in attempt yo speak). They irritated me as I was unable to concentrate (I think that was insensitive of me to feel that way). I was feeling irritated but at the same time guilty for feeling this way. I'm glad I attended this workshop because now I look at this incident in a much different way. I know why I felt guilty, and irritated at the same time.
· They narrated an interesting piece… (Fiction). …Once there is a happy family of four. The parents as wells the two kids are deaf. They use sign language at home. One day a new family comes to stay next door. That is a hearing family. The little boy from the hearing impaired family goes next door to make friends with their hearing daughter. He spends almost an hour at their house but with no interaction. When he comes back home he tells his mum that “Mum, that girl is disabled she can’t sign”
· Few questions were also raised…. why deaf women don’t participate in the beauty pageants (especially in India). All they need is an interpreter and then they are ready to explore a new world. An interesting option came out of this venture. A lady in Pune who trains participants for the Femina Miss India has promised to train a deaf girl for the next year’s contest. Hope we get to see a positive outcome.
· How many of you thought that the film ‘Black’ was really good. And, Amitabh Bachchan and Rani Mukherjee acted really well. What a great job they did with learning the sign language. But did you know that a group of deaf people who went to watch the movie didn’t understand what was happening in the movie. It seems Amitabh Bachchan was really bad with sign language but Rani Mukherjee was a little better. And we hearing people thought that they were really good with sign language. Isn’t that a bit funny or surprising!!
· There are different categories of deafness depending on its degree. Some people can hear with the help of a hearing machine but still they are called deaf. But many of us who can’t see properly and have to wear glasses aren’t called blind. Why?
· The state in India…
In India there are no television channels, which the deaf people can enjoy just like the hearing people. The only news channel that has news for deaf people once a week is the national Doordarshan channel. But that’s no good as apparently in that show they use sign language used by a small deaf community in Delhi and not the Indian sign language. So this news hour is just watched by hearing people, as deaf people spread across India don’t understand this sign language. Similar or worse is the case with films, television serials or cartoon films. Why can’t a deaf person enjoy these like anyone of us…shouldn’t that be a (unsaid) right of theirs?
· In India and many other countries at school level even today hearing-impaired children are forced to learn to speak rather than equipping them with sign language…why? A deaf child, if he works very hard might be able to say a few words but he can go beyond 1000 words in sign language. Why do we want to try and make them “normal”? By making them speak aren't we hindering their development. That’s not fair!
· Just imagine….When you have sore throat or something and you can’t speak properly for a day or two. You get so irritated. Or I will give my own example. Couple of months back I had cold and because of that my ears were blocked and I couldn’t hear properly. That was so frustrating. I thought I was missing out on so many things…missed a joke in a film, missed out on the conversations around me….this was something that happened for three-four days and I had a tough time. So you can imagine how difficult it must be for a person who has to live with this disability. If we can’t treat their disability can’t we at least make an attempt to facilitate communication for them? Can’t we make an attempt just so that they can lead a normal life just like the hearing people?

It was an eye-opener session for me. I mean I have read about it but never recognised its intensity. A person is deprived of communication just because that person can’t hear….is something I can’t imagine!!!

Hopefully in June they are going to start sign language classes in Pune. I’m very keen on learning sign language just as any other foreign language. If anyone reading this is interested in learning do let me know. I will keep you posted in case I get any updates on the course in Pune. Let’s see…!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

nice to read such lively discription...
well done!!!

8:14 AM  
Blogger Nandu Chitnis said...

Very touched.....

8:19 AM  
Blogger A.I. said...

Thanks Rujuta. You have truly encapsulated the whole weekend workshop in the blog beautifully.

Keep watching the avanti blog for updates.

Thanks for attending the workshop and for writing this beautiful touching piece. We're glad we've made a connection.

..Anita Iyer

8:38 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Interesting viewpoint!

9:31 PM  
Blogger Navin said...

Hi Rujuta,
Nice piece. Count me in as one of the people interested in hearing more about the classes.

About a month back, I bought a book on sign language - on a whim. I had an idea in mind that I'll take it up as a hobby. I had recently learned that sign language is not just a simple matter of translating the words of your regular "hearing" language into gestures - it is much more interesting with its own rules. That sounded interesting to me.

Unfortunately, I did not get a chance to get started on the book because somebody from my office immediately borrowed it. Oh well.

Anyway, I am not sure I'll have time to attend a class, but keep me informed.


2:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another beautiful and thought provoking blog, Ruju - it seems that during just the one workshop you learnt such a lot. Thank you for sharing the experience. To all of you who may be considering learning sign language: Do it! Navin, I'm afraid it cannot be done from a book, but attending a class is fun and engaging (albeit also hard work at times). It really makes you think about methods of communication in a new way and it feels good to be able to sign - even if it's just a little - when meeting a deaf person whose first language is signing. It's all about understanding each other as much as possible. Hmmm - reminds me that I must put more effort into learning a little bit of Maharati before (or rather during) our next visit to India... Best wishes from Estrid

9:14 AM  
Blogger estrella said...

I make documentaries and I just wanted to know have you ever thought of about making a film on this subject. I could help you.

6:05 PM  
Blogger estrella said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

6:07 PM  
Blogger estrella said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

6:07 PM  
Blogger A.I. said...


Could you e-mail me at please? I am a part of the Avanti team that organised the workshop and would love to discuss this further. Rujuta...would you like to join in?

4:06 AM  
Blogger A.I. said...

Hi Rujuta,

We've finally succeeded in finding an instructor who can teach in Pune. Now the hunt for sponsors and a classroom begins. I'll need your help and suggestions..


Anita ( Avanti)

6:58 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Hi Rujuta, lively one. I need one favor from you. My younger is a sign language teacher too. He was working with "The Deaf Way, Hyderabad" , but because of health issues n family commitments he has to work in Maharashtra. I'd appreciate if you can guide him for starting his career in Pune or anywhere in MS. Thanks in advance.

2:34 AM  
Blogger Joe Pinto said...

My dear Rujuta,

Great description! But still too full of adjectives and adverbs. But this post was more than two years ago.

Just a line from the Beatles:
"Living is easy
with eyes closed,
everything we see."


"Living is easy
with ears closed,
everything we hear.

Warm regards,
- Joe.

1:14 AM  
Blogger prerna said...

Prernatalwar I have read about your oponion for hearing impaired people.I am also a hearing impaired child and wish to learn the sign language with lip reading and looking for a tutor.I am staying in pune.Hoping you would help me finding a tutor who would come and teach me at home.It will be very kind of you as i am in very much need of it.Thanks

10:52 AM  
Blogger Rujuta said...

To Joe Pinto's comment:
I agree with you. I will definitely keep that in mind.

11:35 PM  
Blogger Rujuta said...

Hi Prerna,
I'm not aware where you can find a tutor? You can get in touch with the peson who had organised this workshop. Here is the email id and you can get in touch with her
Hope you find a good tutor.
Best wishes,

11:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read that article and was truly touched by the difficulties of the hearing impaired, have wanted for a long time to learn the basic sign language but don't know if there are any in Hyderabad if you know of any institutions would love to know. Isn't sign language universal?

7:30 AM  
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