Digital Sign Language Lab project aims to build level playing field in deaf education
January 3, 2019
For decades now, deaf children in India have been struggling to access basic education and learning. There are many reasons for this, the primary ones being lack of awareness and access to Indian Sign Language (ISL) in schools. This affects access to employment opportunities as well as individual growth potential.
With the aim of addressing this critical gap, the Haryana Welfare Society for Persons with Speech and Hearing Impairment (HWPSHI) has taken a major step forward by starting a Digital Sign Language Lab.
The project creates accessible curriculum and awareness materials in ISL along with closed captioning, voice-overs and graphics. The aim is to address lack of accessibility, equity and quality in the area of deaf education.
A six-member team, three deaf and two sign language interpreters, is working on this initiative under the guidance of well-known Deaf leader Sibaji Panda, who is a Senior Consultant. Panda is the founder member of Indian Sign Language Teachers Association (ISLTA) and the Indian Sign Language Interpreter's Association (ISLIA).
Mohammed Imran is a sign language anchor, whose role is to translate the NCERT course material into ISL. From Indore, Madhya Pradesh, Imran brings to the project a lived experience having suffered as a young boy.
There are 700 deaf schools in India, but no deaf teachers there. There are many issues with deaf education. I was tortured with having to use oral sign language and it was only after I learned ISL later in Indore that I gained confidence. There are many children who are suffering like I did and that is why we have started this, so that the next generation benefits. - Mohammed Imran, Sign Language Anchor
The ISL courses can be accessed on YouTube, Facebook as well as the website of the HWPSHI. Links to all three have been shared at the end of the article.
The courses taught are the same as those taught in mainstream schools, but brought alive through videos in ISL as well as captions.
"The team sits together and discusses each chapter for a complete understanding", says Imran. "After that we do the video. We also have awareness videos where we share stories so that children can learn with ISL and hand motions and expressions."
Apart from Panda, the other key member is Ankur Panchal, an editor. "I am very happy to reach out to the kids in this format. The children watch them with interest and emotion so they feel satisfied".
So far, the Lab has done videos for five schools in Delhi and eight schools in Haryana. Going ahead they plan to reach out to schools in other states as well at no cost.
Initiatives like these could prove to be game changers for the deaf community, believes Ruma Roka, founder, Noida Deaf Society, an organization that works towards educating and empowering deaf youth. The National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS) has also made the CBSE curriculum available online in ISL.
"The lack of language has kept Deaf people away from learning and education in Deaf schools where education content is delivered through speech - for children who cannot hear! So making NCERT school curriculum accessible to Deaf students through Indian Sign Language is indeed a good initiative", says Roka.
One possible challenge that could come in the way of taking this initiative across India are the variations in ISL in north and south India. Even these, says Roka, can be overcome.
"ISL does not differ radically in the large swaths of north India, they could have some words which are signed differently. Deaf people in south India use a lot more of American Sign Language (ASL). ASL manual alphabets are single hand signed as opposed to ISL which uses both hands for the manual alphabets. But Deaf people are mentally tuned to sign languages and small differences in language can be understood over time."
The DSL Team was honoured with an award by the Haryana government last month on the occasion of World Disability Day for Best Barrier Free Environment and the project was also selected at an international platform at the Sign9 Conference in Poland in 2018.
To watch the videos, click on the links given below. Watch, share and spread this great initiative towards making education inclusive!