Pandemic makes life harder for deaf people, steps needed for inclusion in advocacy, education
Accessible information to medical services to online education, the coronavirus pandemic has increased the barriers for India’s deaf and hard of hearing community. The impact, says the National Association of the Deaf, could be deadly especially for children unless steps are taken to include the community in advocacy and education.
Rahul Tiwari is a first-year student of B.A Maths (Honours) at Benares Hindu University (BHU). Since the coronavirus pandemic, the 19-year-old is unable to access classes. “All classes have shifted online and there is no sign language interpretation available. I am sad, angry and worried about my future”.
It’s been over a week after Rohit shared his story on social media and sent an appeal to the Office of the Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities. He is yet to hear back.
Here is a video of his appeal on Twitter:
19 year old deaf student Rahul Tiwari has been unable to access classes for the entirety of his first year at Banaras Hindu University. I have filed a Complaint with CCPD @socialpwds. Please amplify his appeal. @india_nad @MumtajHaider2 @yadindia @Siddharth00969#RPWD #Disability pic.twitter.com/J8o2RHMD1K
— Shameer Rishad (@RishadShameer) July 19, 2020
Deaf students affected severely by pandemic
Rohit’s situation, says Anuj Jain, Executive Director, National Association of the Deaf (NAD), mirrors that of many deaf students in India.
“The pandemic has affected the entire community. Many schools and universities shifted to an online platform for classes. However, deaf schools have done nothing about it. Students have been missing out on their education because of lack of accessibility”, says Anuj.
The NAD, which works to empower the deaf and hard of hearing community across India, is working closely with various government authorities to address the challenges faced. This includes helping deaf people stranded in various parts of India go back home to building a volunteer group of sign language interpreters to enable barrier-free communication.
Few deaf schools are accessible
Lack of accessible education tools, says NAD, is a major concern given that out of the 700 deaf schools in India, only 30-50 are accessible.
Teachers employed here do not know the Indian Sign Language. The Government Lady Noyce Senior Secondary School for the Deaf, Delhi, has been sending photos on WhatsApp instead of conducting classes with full accessibility. Thirty BHU students are unable to access classes due to the lack of an interpreter. We are very worried about Deaf children missing out on their education. Their rights are being taken away from them. This is unacceptable! – Anuj Jain, Executive Director, National Association of the Deaf
Attempts to close awareness gaps
Online education is just one aspect. The barriers faced by the deaf and hard of hearing community are systemic in many other ways. One instance is the Aarogya Setu App, mandated by the government. It is inaccessible to deaf persons as there is no Indian sign language (ISL) and captioning.
The NAD has made attempts to close the awareness gap by creating videos in partnership with the United Nations, India. Twelve videos explaining various aspects of the pandemic are available on social media platforms Rajya Sabha TV. The Indian Sign Language Research & Training Centre (ISLRTC), Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities, Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment has also created ISL videos.
Such piecemeal efforts, says Anuj, are inadequate. Sustained and comprehensive measures must be put in place. The NAD has sent letters to various central government bodies as part of its advocacy effort.
Some of the recommendations by NAD to make online education accessible are:
- Online/video conferencing platforms should be accessible. Users should be able to access it with assistive technology. Controls and other features like chat, share screen etc. should be accessible using a screen reader and speech recognition. Users should be able to increase the text size in chat pane etc.
- Provision for live captions/transcriptions.
- ISL interpreter should be mandatorily provided if there is a deaf student. This includes interpreters from ISLRTC or deaf signers, deaf master trainers and other professional ISL interpreters.
Smallest state shows big heart
Nagaland has taken a step in this direction by incorporating sign language interpretation in the second phase of video and audio broadcast lessons for classes VIII-XII from 11 to 30 July. This includes sign language making it an inclusive learning atmosphere for children with disabilities. This initiative from one of India’s smallest states should inspire the rest of the country.
Watch in Sign Language
Support us to make NewzHook Sustainable – Make a Contribution Today
We need your continued support to enable us work towards Changing Attitudes towards Disability. Help us in our attempt to share the voices of people with disabilities that enable them to participate in the society on an equal footing!