It is easy to understand why accessibility and dignity go hand in hand. Without access to education, transport and technology, persons with disability cannot lead fulfilling lives.
The World Bank says that one billion people, or 15 percent of the world’s population, experience some form of disability, and disability prevalence is higher for developing countries. One-fifth of the estimated global total, or between 110 and 190 million people, experience significant disabilities. That’s a lot of people.
To put numbers in context, a close look at the census 2011, which is also outdated, reveals that of the 13.4 million people with disabilities in India in the employable age group of 15-59 years, 9.9 (73.9 percent) million were non-workers or marginal workers. Which means that only 26.1 percent of the productive age group of the country is employed.
People with hearing disabilities face many issues, when it comes to employment. A 2014 survey by UK-based charity Action on Hearing Loss reveals a variety of issues faced by people who are hearing-impaired or have a hearing loss, both inside and outside the workplace:
- 31 percent of people feel they are treated differently because of their deafness, hearing loss and tinnitus
- 33 percent of people who are deaf avoid social situations because they find it difficult to communicate
- 68 percent of people with hearing loss feel isolated at work as a result
- Inclusion of people with hearing impairment is not that difficult.
We have been constantly putting pressure on the Indian corporates to offer employment to persons with disability. In fact, every year, we give out the NCPEDP MindTree Hellen Keller Award, to recognise the work of organisations and individuals.
Here are some major concerns that need to be overcome if we are to offer the hearing-impaired employment. Around the world, they communicate using sign language as distinct from spoken language in their everyday lives. A sign language is a visual language that uses a system of manual, facial and body movements as the means of communication.
- In India, there is no officially recognised sign language system. As a result, 99 percent of hearing-impaired people are either uneducated or drop out after Class VI or VII, because they are not able to cope. There are hardly any people with hearing impairment who have cleared Class X. One reason is the tremendous shortage of sign language interpreters and trained teachers.
- Hundreds of sign languages are used around the world. For instance, Japanese Sign Language (Nihon Shuwa, JSL), British Sign Language (BSL), Spanish Sign Language (Lengua de signos o señas española, LSE), and Turkish Sign Language (Türk İşaret Dili, TID). Compared to this, we do not have a composite Indian Sign Language (INSL). This, despite having a huge institution, National Institute of Hearing Handicapped, in Mumbai, which guzzles crores of taxpayers' money every year. All they have managed thus far (in decades) is a dictionary of a 1,000-odd words.
- Having access to a sign language is central to any hearing-impaired person for their cognitive, social, emotional, and linguistic growth. Sign language is acquired by children in the same timeframe as spoken languages and this acquisition process shows similar patterns and milestones as a spoken language. It is important that children with hearing impairment have access to a sign language at an early age and it should be understood as their first language, just like Hindi or Tamil or Bengali.
- This is not where the problem ends. India has no captions on television, instructions or signage in public spaces, TTY (accessible telephone), instruction through sign language in schools and no specialised college or university.
- Forget TV or films, which one may dismissively regard as 'mere entertainment'. What about at a railway station, where all announcements are in audio? Imagine the plight of a person with hearing impairment at a hospital or police station, where something is to be conveyed urgently and there is no sign language interpreter.
- Another obvious dimension is employment and the need for financial independence. It helps if people have name badges and if locations and jobs are well labelled. It helps if task that have to be performed are visually-labelled. A person who is hearing-disabled cannot lip-read you well and so will rely on your facial expression to try to figure out what you’re conveying. They feel left out and this is very bad for their morale.
The community of persons with hearing disabilities in India desperately needs to strengthen its fight for its basic rights, like education, the recognition and adoption of an Indian sign language, awareness about their culture, and motivating the television and film industry in the country to adopt captioning.
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)