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Sign N TALK India’s First Interpreter Relay Service



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Sign N TALK

India’s First Interpreter Relay Service

Interpreter relay services serve as a mediator between those using sign language as a primary communication tool and those who don't. This has finally arrived in India after having proven its efficacy in several other countries where it has been in use.

'SignNTalk' is an innovative service that provides real time access using Information Communication Technology to provide online interpreting options for the hearing impaired.

The UNCRPD injunction to provide equal access for disabled persons has catalysed the provision by foreign governments of free video relay systems that interpret for the deaf community; this system is being rapidly adopted by the developed world already. Building on the success of video relay interpreting abroad, the Deaf Way Foundation and Barrier Break Technologies developed a model for India, with the name 'SignNTalk'.

'SignNTalk' enables a deaf person with a webcam and internet access to reach an interpreter online. The interpreter can then provide communication services on telephone in a variety of situations. Whether it is merely a matter of a message to be passed on or detailed information to be gathered from another organisation or even an office environment to enable a deaf person to participate in meetings and discussions, 'SignNTalk' is up to the task.

Many companies nowadays are actively diversifying their workforce to achieve equal opportunity employer status and 'SignNTalk' is the solution to the communication issues faced by them. Physical access to mobility impaired and software access to visually impaired is already being provided, but now with the advent of 'SignNTalk', real time communication access to hearing impaired employees help integrate them into their workplace more effectively and comprehensively. An employee with hearing impairment can now interact with colleagues and address issues by simply switching on a Webcam.

Our interpreters can call across the country and receive online visitors from all over the world. The service is so user-friendly and simple that anyone with internet access can use it, anywhere across the country. The applications of this network are simply unlimited and as we progress we will be opening up options for deaf people that never existed before.

At the moment interpreters are Delhi-based and provide access from 10 a.m. to 5p.m. from Monday through Friday. Interpreters currently use Indian Sign Language to interpret in English, Hindi, Punjabi, Bengali and Oriya. The website currently does not specify language but in time to come this feature will be added for better interpreter selection.

Deaf people are already raving about the service; “This is so wonderful I can just sit at home and get work done and get information so easily,” said one user to our online interpreters. The feeling is growing, and at the time of writing almost 250 users are registered with this service.

For more information on how it works, visit www.signntalk.org



Sound of Silence | CORPORATE

MIRAKLE COURIERS

Delivering Packets With Passion And Smiles!



CORPORATE

There is no end. There is no beginning. There is only the passion of life- so said the famous Italian Director, Federico Fellini. This must surely be true as it was this passion that drove an Oxford educated investment banker to quit his job and venture into social entrepreneurship. It was just an idea that led to the establishment of Mirakle Couriers that has now proved itself as a commercially viable enterprise as well. This surely is social entrepreneurship at its best.

Mirakle Courier situated in Churchgate, Mumbai operates like any other courier company. What singles it out is its USP, which is that the majority of its employees are deaf. Today, it has been named as one of the “Top 20 business ideas and opportunities for 2011” by Springwise.

When you enter the office, you will see piles of papers and packages to be delivered. Observe for a moment and you find that most communication is done in sign language.

It all started in 2004 when the plight of the people affected by the tsunami compelled Dhruv Lakra to quit his job at Merrill Lynch and take up work at Dasra, an NGO that sought to impart management skills to the non-profit sector. His work involved evolving strategies for this NGO, during which time he had to spend four months in Nagapattinam and Cuddalore. This made a huge impact on him. However, what triggered him to create Mirakle Couriers was an incident while he was travelling in a bus in Mumbai. A chance encounter with a deaf person which made him realise the difficulties faced by the deaf community in day to day life.

Dhruv spent the next few months exploring the lives of deaf people and also earning Indian Sign Language. All he needed was a business idea focusing on the deaf community and voila! He came up with the idea of a courier agency. Through his vast research, he realised that the deaf are extremely good at reading maps, remembering roads and buildings as they have good visual orientation. Thus, Mirakle Couriers was born in January 2009. It was not easy for Dhruv though, since he had to start right from scratch. First, he had to gain the trust of his employees and this was not easy. Deaf people



CORPORATE

had seen their previous employers treat them badly and feared this new employment opportunity. Dhruv visited various 'deaf clubs' in Mumbai, convinced them about his new enterprise and recruited his staff from there.

The next step was to get clients for which he received mixed responses. Some were ready and some were reluctant. Dhruv always remembers the call he got from Ms Anu Aga of Thermax. She offered Dhruv a cabin space in their office at Colaba and that is where he started Mirakle Couriers. Beginning with just two deaf boys, today the team has grown to 35 boys and 15 girls.

The job is no charity based on the disability. Dhruv hired his employees only after carefully scrutinising them and conducting background checks on those who were eligible. Then, begins the training, which is a continuous process. The boys are trained to open and close the lift doors as they are unable to hear the lift announcements. Training on grooming is also given for proper body language, using the right walking shoes, wearing clean clothes and finally returning with delivery reports.

Dhruv does not like anyone using terminologies like 'hearing disabled' or 'differently-abled'. The whole idea of this business was to empower the deaf community through employment. This is a real job with a real salary for what each one is worth. It is only one of the few companies where the pay scales are in accordance with the Maharashtra Wage Board.

Communication at Mirakle Couriers has never been a problem. The language is Indian Sign Language. The entire management team and the employees are fluent in ISL. While the employees are out on the field, text messaging via SMS is used.

The agency has achieved many feats since the time it has been incorporated. It has won many awards which includes the 2009 Hellen Keller award and the 2010 National Award for the Empowerment of People with Disablities which was given by the President of India, Pratibha Patil. Over the last two years, Mirakle Couriers has grown to operate in 2 Branches in Mumbai, employing 70 deaf employees and delivering over 65,000 shipments per month. Dhruv, now wants to start more branches across the country.

Dhruv's business model is based on creating a service driven profitable enterprise making use of latent talents of deaf persons. In the process, he has also given a meaningful life to so many in the deaf community who would have otherwise languished for want of right employment opportunities. Along the way, he has also been able to create role models for others to emulate.



Sound of Silence | PERSONAL ACCOUNT

A PROUD DAUGHTER

Views of a hearing child of deaf parents



- MONICA PUNJABI

I am the proud hearing child of my deaf parents. My father Rajkumar Punjabi and my mother Dr Usha Punjabi are both deaf. I consider myself very lucky as this gave me the opportunity to see and understand the deaf community closely. This coupled with the fact that my parents are founders of an Association of the Deaf and have been running a school for deaf children for the last 36 years, has made me aware of the changes and challenges in education of the deaf.

At a personal level, I have met and learnt from thousands of deaf people and their families and have been lucky to have travelled around the world and have met some very successful deaf people, understood their views towards their language, identity, rights, happiness, growth and life.

First of all, I would like us to take a closer look at the word “communication”. Unless every human being is able to express and exchange abstract thoughts without any loss, communication is neither complete nor effective. Incomplete and fragmented communication can lead to a feeling of isolation and identity loss.



There are three approaches to teaching deaf children:

Total Communication (Sign system + simultaneous speech + reading/writing)

PERSONAL ACCOUNT



Oralism (Speech + reading/writing)

Educational bilingualism (Sign language + reading/writing).

Among all these methods, sign language is the most natural and accessible mode of communication for any deaf child. In fact, sign language, in some ways, can become his mother tongue or first language. And whatever language he 'learns' or is made to learn with efforts (mostly on the basis of sign language) becomes his second language.

Deaf people can learn to speak. However, it doesn't mean that they will achieve fluency in spoken language. This is because it not a natural and effortless process and very often requires intensive training which may not be possible for all.

In Indian, often there is a tendency to teach the second language first, without a base in the first language.

Based on my own observations and experience, I feel that giving access to sign language before spoken language helps the deaf communicate better. Once this is taken care of, it also eases the process by which the deaf can learn a language with all the intricacies of grammar. I have seen both the young and adult deaf person from a background of sign language having greater confidence to express themselves and coming forward to meet hearing people and being independent. There is also greater awareness of their rights and their ability to bring about attitudinal changes.

As against this, in my experience, deaf people who grew up in isolation due to identity crisis, look at the faces of speakers without comprehending, make themselves look ignorant. This isolation remains throughout their life.

Another question that the deaf persons ask is about their identity. Their language is a language as any other with its own unique grammar and structure. They have their own culture that they are proud of and seek recognition of their language medium to understand the subject 100%. They also seek recognition of sign language to help them understand the rules of written language (English, Hindi, etc.) through education bilingualism approach.

Successful educational institutes across the world have proved how sign language is used as a medium of instruction in the classroom to teach second language and have command in reading/writing. Sign language gives a deaf child the base to express himself completely, which in turn helps him grow mentally, intellectually, socially, and happily throughout his life. This way the families are able to avoid any of the resultant problems of isolation and poor confidence levels, commonly faced by people with communication difficulties.

Hence, effective communication is extremely important for the success of a deaf child. This is what we believe in and emphasise on… … after all, we have two very successful role models who have showed us the way: my parents.

Sound of Silence | WELLNESS

HEEDING THE YOGA CALL

- LILA LOLLING

In 2007 I founded the DeafYoga Foundation (DYF), a non-profit organization dedicated to uniting the deaf community and yoga. To date we have trained over 10 deaf yoga instructors and opened the door for nearly 2,000 deaf yogins to learn yoga's ancient wisdoms.

G rowing up in rural America, in a town of 1,000 people, I wasn't aware of any other culture that existed outside that of the German and Italian descendants who settled there in the late 1800s. I certainly didn't know that people with disabilities existed until I read the book Helen Keller when I was eight years old. The book was inspiring, to say the least: a story about a child who became both deaf and blind, yet went on to graduate with a bachelor's degree. At the time, the thought of being deaf and/or blind seemed so foreign. I remember reading the book and realising immediately the strong impact it would have on my life. I felt as though I had read a story about someone in my own family, about "my people, my culture” much in the same way I later came to feel about yoga.

Helen Keller's book soon became the backbone for the very service that would consume my life and elevate my spirit. Working as a waitress at age sixteen, my manager asked me to babysit his two daughters - one hearing and one deaf. I was thrilled at the opportunity to meet the first deaf person in my life. Even though Chelsea was only five years old, she was full of expression and language, and had the same vitality as any other happy five year old.

Meeting Chelsea changed my life, and I desired nothing more than to learn the language that effortlessly flowed from her dainty little fingers. I immediately enrolled in an American Sign Language (ASL) class at a local community center. The class was taught by an amazing deaf instructor who was a noble representative of her beautiful culture. She helped to increase my comfort level within the deaf community thanks to her open nature and patience.

While in college, I encountered my first sign language interpreter who sat at the front of our classroom interpreting Anatomy & Physiology into ASL for a deaf student in our class. Needless to say, though I received a “D” as my final grade for the class, my ASL vocabulary grew by leaps and bounds. I could often be found asking the interpreter questions about specific signs after the classroom had already emptied.

Again, the deaf community and their language continued to

WELLNESS


impact my life. The following year, I transferred to a college that offered an Interpreter Training Program (ITP) and it was the only time in my life that I received “A's”. It was becoming clear to me and my family that this would somehow emerge as my soul's service... but exactly how was still unknown.

In the ITP, I met numerous successful deaf and blind individuals: teachers, interpreters, college graduates, and others. I learned about deaf people - their cultural nuances, ASL language and I quickly learned that their abilities often exceeded my own. I learned that the deaf community was often misunderstood by most hearing people. For the first time in my life, I felt ashamed of the unfair labels that had been used, even by my own family members: deaf & dumb, deaf mutes, hard of hearing... the list is long and not very distinguished.

Years passed, I stopped interpreting and I found my way into the world of classical yoga, my soul's other calling. During my yoga teacher training course in 2000, I held the beloved deaf community members in my heart. I thought about their lack of accessibility to such training programmes. Living on several Sivananda ashrams in the following years, I considered the ASL translation of Kirtan and ancient yoga texts such as the Bhagavad Gita, Upanishads and the very wisdom that initiated healing in my own life. How could we begin to make yoga and its teachings accessible to the deaf community? How could deaf community members thrive by doing yoga and what do they in turn have to offer us? These questions birthed the very passion I had been seeking.

I finally knew my soul's purpose... to translate ancient yoga texts into ASL and aid in training deaf yogins to become yoga instructors. In 2007 I founded the DeafYoga Foundation (DYF), a non-profit organisation dedicated to uniting the deaf community and yoga. To date we have trained over 10 deaf yoga instructors and opened the door for nearly 2,000 deaf yogins to learn yoga's ancient wisdom.

Many deaf students have been deeply touched through their experiences in yoga. As Geeta Sagar, an Indian student now living in the U.S. states, “I am so grateful to the DeafYoga Foundation for creating accessibility for deaf people, like myself, who wish to learn yoga. DYF uses sign language, allowing me to follow and understand the benefits of asanas, pranayama, meditation, and the yogic philosophy. Through participation in group discussions on various yoga topics, I was able to discover 'who I am' and embrace my spirituality.”

Geeta also states her deep sense of gratitude for being raised in the United States, as she believes that she has far more opportunities for equal access, higher education and a career. She notices her fellow deaf community members in India and observes their struggles. As a hearing American myself, I am still amazed at the suppression that we impose upon people with disabilities in all communities worldwide.

We must reach deep within us and begin to live and experience life through the eyes of God and the infinite faces that are animated by this amazing Force. Only when we begin to equally see the Self (Atman) that exists in all beings, can we truly live in a state of oneness and humility.

As the great saint Master Sivananda from Rishikesh states, “See God in all beings and things, as they are a manifestation of God.” I give sincere gratitude to deaf community members everywhere, for helping me to realise the potential of my soul. May we all realise the oneness of the human spirit that resides in all of our blessed bodies... regardless of our physical differences.



Sound of Silence | CONVERSATION

Speak up children

A tete-e-tete with JEAN MOOG

- AILEEN CROWE NANDI

Why is oral communication for deaf children important?

Talking is more than the words we speak -- it is a powerful enabler. It enables us to communicate and fully participate in the world around us. For children who are deaf or hard of hearing, spoken language opens opportunities that might not be available if they could communicate by talking. Today, these children are talking better and achieving more than ever before.



Is this (oral communication for deaf children) a new phenomenon in the United States?

Although deaf children learning to talk is not a new phenomenon in the United States, it is not until the last fifteen years that it was a realistic goal for the majority of deaf children. Historically, the most devastating effect of severe and profound hearing loss has been on spoken language -- or learning to talk. We learn to talk by listening to the sounds of speech around us, and hearing loss reduces both the quantity and the quality of what is received. Until the last 15 years or so, learning to talk was a realistic goal only for a few. Although the oral approach for teaching deaf children to talk has been in existence for many centuries, until recently, the outcome for children with severe to profound deafness have been disappointingly low. Before the late 20th century, hearing aids did not provide enough access to sound for children with limited residual hearing who were learning to talk through listening. Acquiring competence with spoken language was difficult and required superb teaching, which was available in only a few schools that specialised in oral deaf education, or through tutors. Furthermore, for those who did learn to talk, the process was typically long and tedious; conversing often required considerable effort on the part of

CONVERSATION

the listener as well as the speaker. However, that is no longer the case. Remarkable changes in the field of deaf education have resulted in increased achievement by deaf children -- more of them are learning to talk, and they are doing it faster and achieving higher levels than ever before.



What is the potential for a deaf or hearing impaired child to speak orally and what is required?

Today, most deaf children who are fitted with appropriate sensory aids, including hearing aids and cochlear implants, can learn to use their aided hearing well enough for their listening to be the foundation of spoken language development, and most deaf children can learn to talk well enough for their talking to be the way they communicate. The three factors most responsible for this change in achievement level of deaf children are (a) newborn screening and early intervention, (b) advances in hearing technology and (c) innovations in teaching that capitalise on the first two.



What do you recommend for deaf children in India who might not have access to deaf schools or whose parents can't afford hearing aids?

Hearing aids at the earliest possible age are critical for maximum success for deaf children to learn to speak. Parents should work with the government and philanthropic agencies to find ways to provide hearing aids to deaf children. Being able to hear is the most important factor for deaf children to learn to talk. I would recommend parents contact the John Tracy Clinic as a first step. The John Tracy Clinic in Los Angeles has a correspondence course for parents of deaf babies and helps parents gain the skills to work with their children. Their website address is www.johntracyclinic.org Another good resource is the AG Bell Association and their website is www.agbell.org The Moog Center has been doing some distance work with parents and our website is www.moogcenter.org.



What words of encouragement do you typically give parents who might be devastated that their children are deaf or hearing impaired?

A child with a hearing loss is only that --- a child with a hearing loss. Hearing loss does not have to limit a child. Although the individual may have to work harder, the hard work can truly pay off. Many deaf children grow up to be fully participating adults, who have good jobs, get married, have children and live very fulfilling lives.



How are your students integrated or mainstreamed in the United States? Is there a stigma of being deaf or wearing hearing aids?

In the United States most of the children are integrated into classes with hearing children for most of their education. In the United States there are laws that require schools and universities to provide support to children with hearing loss in the mainstream if they need it. Although many years ago deaf students were sometimes teased and deafness was misunderstood, there is typically no longer any stigma in being deaf or in wearing hearing aids.




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