Devangi Dalal and Dr Jayant Gandhi are pioneering a movement to make sure underprivileged children with hearing disabilities are able to integrate into society though high-quality care.
“In my 26 years of practice,” says Devangi Dalal, audiologist, speech therapist and co-founder of Josh Foundation, “If there is one thing I know, it is that everyone with hearing impairments has some residual hearing. If that hearing is utilised properly, the patient can progress very well.”
Josh Foundation does just that – recognise residual hearing, and use high quality equipment, along with training and care, to bring normal speech to hearing-impaired people.
Most importantly, the foundation creates awareness about the necessity of accurate diagnosis and rehabilitation tailored to the patient’s individual needs. Devangi explains,
There are many myths about hearing. When we started up, we knew of a few charitable foundations that thought problems would be solved by distributing a few thousand cheap hearing aids.
“We have made tremendous progress in impressing upon people that simply providing cheap hearing aids to children has negligible impact. The hearing aids have to be of high quality, and have to be tailored to the child’s need. This has to be coupled with proper training in using the hearing aid, training in language development, counselling for children and their parents, and other support to integrate them into society. Josh Foundation does all these.”
Devangi started working with Dr Jayant Gandhi, an ENT surgeon, after completing her graduation. The two realised that they were inclined to work on socially relevant issues and started Josh in 2004. The founders have been working together for 26 years. The foundation runs from their clinic in Santacruz, Mumbai.
The foundation works with special schools and hearing-impaired children from other schools, and functions as a guide for not only their auditory health, but also for their personality and career development.
Four years ago, Josh started a sports education programme in three schools. It was instrumental in a lot of ways to make students self-dependent, and also increased school attendance. “Eight of our children earned black belts and became instructors,” Devangi says.
Our students have gone on to become civil engineers, photographers, choreographers, entrepreneurs, and architects. We have always encouraged them to become independent. We focus on their overall development.
Focusing on parents
Every year, Josh organises an event for hearing-impaired children from all schools. The children participate in different competitions. Children from regular schools and special schools come together and perform. To the parents, this event presents cases, almost role models, of children studying in regular schools, with the same hearing issues as their own children, who are fully integrated into society.
Another activity we do primarily for parents is the periodic announcement of a Josh Star, who is a hearing-impaired child who has achieved something exceptional. The award and stories encourage parents to work further and harder with their children. It shows them what is possible.
There is one student that Devangi talks about fondly. “He came in to the clinic when he was in Class 7,” she says, “He had just moved from another city. He was having a tough time integrating into his new school, what with puberty and the unfamiliarity of everything.”
Josh recommended that his parents get him the best available hearing aid, and also offered to provide the training to use it. “One day, we organised an elocution competition. He stood first and this was such a boost to his confidence, there was no going back for him,” Devangi adds.
He scored brilliant marks in Class 10 and 12, went on to earn a distinction in his engineering degree, worked for KPMG and even went to do a Masters degree in the US. It was incredible how one competition changed his, and everyone else’s, perspective.
Spreading the message
Apart from Mumbai, Josh now works in Rajasthan, Bangalore and Gujarat. This year, they are also organising a hearing screening camp in Mozambique. They have previously partnered with the World Health Organization for an awareness campaign.
And yet, Jayant and Devangi are ambitious. They are looking to work with children all over the country, and create awareness internationally as well. They are funded through donations from well-wishers, friends, and corporations.
Their work clearly remains challenging, not least because myths around hearing-impairment are still prevalent."Lots of aid organisations still prioritise quantity over quality. We have worked with 750 children, but we provide holistic care to each child. Using a hearing aid changes your perception of hearing. And since we speak what we hear, better hearing leads to better speech. One just needs to be patient, just as one is with a baby just learning to speak,” Devangi says.
In a country where 6.3% of the population is hearing impaired, Josh’s message is crucial. As Devangi puts it,
Hearing-impaired children can become self-sufficient, provided we shift the focus from numbers to the quality of care.