Disability doesn’t make you weak, the thought that you can’t do something because of your disability is what’s standing between you and your success, writes AVANTIKA BOSE
Disabled — whenever, we hear this term we immediately associate it with weakness. Some people even think that it would be better to die than become disabled cause that’s the kind of stigma associated with it. Hearing impairment is one such disability which isn’t visible at first but it does create obstacles for those who are suffering from it. In India, 250 children suffer from severe to profound hearing loss. Globally, around 360 million people, ie, 5 per cent of the earth’s population, suffers from hearing loss; and some 32 million of these are children.
Suniye, in the RK Puram area of New Delhi, is a non-profit organisation established in 1995, working with and for hearing impaired children and has become a representative for the hearing impaired community in India. It is managed by parents of hearing impaired children and assisted by professionals, speech therapists, audiologists, doctors, teachers etc. It runs a support school which encourages inclusive education while helping in developing speech and language. They also started a nursery school from April 1, 2017. The primary goal of this organisation is to help hearing impaired children to such an extent that they become useful members of society. Suniye instils so much confidence within a child that despite their disability they are able to do exactly what a child not suffering from hearing impairment can do.
On May 4, Suniye celebrated their annual day function in Delhi Tamil Sangam Auditorium. The place was brimming with enthusiastic children who were excited about their upcoming performance. The chief guest for this event was Pradip Burman, MD of Dabur group. There was also an art exhibit done by the children from Suniye. There was a glimpse of activities that the children had done over the past year as well as a beautiful dance performance by the kids which was choreographed by Prashant Saini of Me Academy. This annual day function and the performances done by these children, that society otherwise views as weak due to their disability, proved that they aren’t any different from kids who don’t suffer from any disability.
I got the opportunity of not only attending the annual day function but also speaking with some alumni of Suniye. The following are their stories:
Purvi: I was two and a half years old when I joined Suniye. Here I learned how to speak, draw and play various games. Because of Suniye I was able to participate in a lot of functions and we went out for picnics too. Suniye helped me with my speech and prepared me for the real world. I am very proud of who I am, all thanks to Suniye and have learned to value my life. I realised that I’m an amazing person, no lesser than anyone else. I’ll be going to the University of Texas, Dallas for Bachelors in Computer Engineering.
Shubham: People or children in school made fun of me. It was in Suniye that I was able to gain confidence and they helped me with my speech. Participating in functions and in various activities also really helped me and prepared me for the real world. Suniye gave me so much motivation that it made me realise that disability doesn’t come in the way of success. Currently I’m preparing to get into IIT and I’m extremely interested in gaming.
Cheenu: I started coming to Suniye ever since I was a kid. Suniye provided me the mentorship that I needed as well as helped me with my speech. This organisation has made me confident, motivated me to become the person that I’m today. I run my own software development company called clinchpad.com.
The children who are still a part of Suniye as well as the alumni make it very clear with their performances and how they’re facing the real world head-on that the handicap of deafness isn’t in the ear; but in the mind. They have proved that where there’s a will there’s a way. They aren’t allowing the fact that their hearing is impaired come in the way of their success. Neither are they viewing it as a weakness.
They also teach us something important, that how in life even if a little bit goes wrong we start blaming everyone and start feeling victimised. Whereas, these kids who don’t have the ability to hear are facing life and not letting their disability to hold them back. There is just so much that we can learn from these children.
The principal of Suniye, Anita Prasad, spoke with me and gave an insight into the working of Suniye: “First thing one needs to keep in mind is that deaf people aren’t dumb. Because, they’ve hearing impairment they’re not able to speak and develop language. The most important thing is speech and language therapy. As the child has used his other senses and not his hearing he has to be trained to use his hearing. Here the role of the therapist and the educator becomes imperative. At Suniye, we work with the child and train the parents so that the work is done side by side and continued with other members of the family. The child is able to learn how to speak and listen in class and home.”
S Ramakrishnan, the secretary of this organisation, was kind enough to answer a few questions for us and make us understand this situation further:
What influenced you to set up this organisationIJ
Suniye was started by some parents of hearing impaired children who wanted to help other parents of such children with the experience they had gained while teaching their own children. The initial meetings of parents were held in the residencies of various parents and when the group started growing, these meeting were held in the hall of Indian Medical Association, or in a classroom of some school etc. later we decided to form an association and name it Suniye and then register it. With the help of ENT doctors, Audiologists, Speech Therapists and teachers of hearing impaired children, we started our school in a room in New Delhi YMCA, Jaisingh Road, on April 4, 1995. After shifting to different locations, we finally moved into our premises in Sector 2, RK Puram on December 3, 2008. The land was allotted to us by the Ministry of Urban Development, Government of India and payment for the land (Rs 27 lakh) and construction (Rs 60 lakh) was met entirely from donations from well meaning individuals and institutions.
How do you manage and run your organisationIJ
We run our school through donations from individuals and institutions. We also got some funds from the Government long back. We have an elective Executive Committee to decide policy matters and trained language teachers to teach the children. The parents of existing children who are a part of Suniye, counsel the new parents.
What are the creative and
innovative things that you have done up until nowIJ
A congenially hearing impaired child does not talk because they don’t listen to sounds. Any normal child learns to talk by constantly listening to sounds from when they’re a year or two years old. The hearing aid or cochlear implant enhances sounds which enables a hearing impaired child to hear sounds.
However, it does not understand the meaning of such sounds. We in Suniye, teach the children to understand what those sounds and learn to talk. We also teach them all the skills required to attend mainstream schools (not special schools) so that these children live a normal life in a talking world.
A normal person listens to all kinds of sounds and is able to discard unwanted sounds and listen to purposeful sounds only. In order to help hearing impaired children to learn to listen to meaningful sounds and learn to talk, we have recently introduced Frequency Modulation (FM) system in the school fully funded by Cognisant Foundation. We have also started a nursery school recently to prepare very young children to listen and talk and learn skills to join mainstream schools at the right age. For this we have collaborated with The Hans Foundation.
We celebrate all important National Days and festivals in the school to teach the children to understand their significance and enjoy the same. We take our children on outings to show various aspects of life. In our Annual Day Programme, our children perform which gives them self confidence and a sense of achievement.
What are some of the long-term objectives you would like to see completedIJ
We would like Suniye to become a one stop establishment for helping hearing impaired children. An ear mould laboratory is something we would like to start. Also we would like to start a teachers training programme for increasing availability of teachers.
You’re not disabled by the disabilities you have, you are able by the abilities you have. And the Suniye children are doing exactly this — concentrating on their strengths and contributing towards society.