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Meet the deaf trainers who are helping to spread the good word about sign language

The ability to communicate in English, verbally and in writing, is vital. This is a skill that many people with hearing disabilities lose out on lack as they are exempted from learning English at the school level.

A gap that v-shesh, founded in 2009, is trying to bridge by reaching out to deaf and hard of hearing school children. v-shesh trainers reach out to over 800 children enrolled in deaf schools across Mumbai, Bengaluru and rural Tamil Nadu.

We spoke to Raymond D'Costa, a deaf trainer at the Mumbai branch, who loves to use Indian Sign Language (ISL) to teach his students.

"Apart from teaching English to deaf school children, I also develop the curriculum and visual techniques for teaching deaf children in the classrooms. I like teaching in ISL as my students love the expressions I make and the jocular tone of ISL".

Raymond says he was exposed to sign language at the age of 16 when a Mumbai NGO started a program in his school. He

The technique they used was a mix of oral and visual and I was more exposed to finger-spellings and signs. - Raymond D' Costa, Deaf Trainer

The sign language he learned first was the American version and it was only in 2005 that he started using ISL.

Having missed out on learning sign in his early years, Raymond is strongly convinced of how essential a role it plays in the all-round development of a deaf or hard of hearing child.

"It hampers the linguistic development as well as the emotional, social and cognitive development at later stages. Most children who grow up in strictly oral environments are not very confident and have difficulty in mingling with people."

A conviction shared by his colleague Radhika Aggarwal.

"It's like this. If I start teaching a hearing child in signs and not speech, he or she is going to be confused. The same thing happens with deaf children. The use of sign language and the visual medium helps to reach out to the child and create an interest. It also helps them pick up other subjects."

Raymond believes that the single-minded focus on speech therapy by parents affects the confidence of a child with a hearing disability.

"Many parents focus on speech therapy and I think it may be because hearing parents are comfortable with speech and it is recommended by doctors. It works well when rendered to children at an early age. Despite intensive speech therapy, some deaf children may still not be able to speak and hear as well as some other children. "

Raymond believes sign language is preferred to hearing aids because there is greater visualization. A strong base in sign also helps children who are deaf improve their understanding of the English language.

Apart from working with children in deaf schools, Raymond conducts sign language workshops for hearing clients at multinational corporations. This young man is truly a passionate advocate of the power of sign language!

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