For most of us who can listen and speak, we often get disturbed by a car honking on the road, or feel happy listening to the soft sound of a bird singing sitting on the branch of a tree right outside our window! But there are people for whom these noises are neither disturbing nor amusing because for them, these sounds do not exist. They are hearing impaired, either from birth or due to any accident or ailment. They understand, communicate and express their feelings with the help of sign language, which is an irreplaceable part of their life.
The world celebrated International Day of Sign Languages on the 23rd September, 2022. On this occasion, the CSR Journal talks to special educator and sign language interpreter Rajani Banerjee, to understand Why sign language training is necessary for everyone.
Sign language interpreter and special educator Rajani Banerjee
Rajani, who has been in this profession since the last 12 years is associated with Asha school Kolkata, an NGO run by Army Wives Welfare Association. She is in the profession since 2010 and associated with this school since 2014. The 35-year-old also works as an interpreter for hearing impaired people who are made to appear in court by the Kolkata Police and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
Talking about the best part of being in this profession, Rajani said, “The trust I earn from the person whose expressions I’m interpreting be it in court, school or anywhere else, that’s my best achievement from this profession.”
Why Rajani entered this profession? “My grandfather Baidyanath Bandopadhyay was a hearing impaired person by birth. He studied at the Calcutta Deaf and Dumb School and later became a teacher over there. My father Rameswar Bandyopadhyay also taught in the same school for 35 years. This inspired me to choose this as a profession,” Rajani informed, adding, “I have completed my Masters in Bangla and taken diploma in sign language interpretation, diploma in special education (hearing impairment.) I have also completed my B. Ed in special education (hearing impairment).
Why sign language training is necessary for every children
Children who are not hearing or speech impaired, often find it difficult to communicate with hearing impaired people later in their lives. Hence, Rajani suggests sign language training should be made mandatory in schools, especially in primary classes for all children.
Talking about the same, she said, “Sign language itself is a language for bridging the gap between two worlds – hearing world and non-hearing world. If this language is only kept limited to non-hearing community itself, then with whom will they interact apart from themselves? How can they lead their life independently if others (normal hearing people) can’t interact or don’t know sign language. That’s why it would be really good if sign language is made compulsory in all schools. This will help normal hearing children grow up with the awareness of non-hearing community or world apart from just knowing their own world.”
Which areas need more sign language trained staff
“I was recently hired (temporarily) by a private hospital in Kolkata to interpret for a hearing impaired pregnant woman. This not only helped the patient communicate with the doctor during pregnancy, but also helped her understand post-delivery tips from the doctor like how and when to feed the baby, how to take proper care of the baby etc.,” Rajani expressed.
“Hospitals, banks, railway stations, airports, tour operators and guides, especially at historical destinations are places which need sign language interpreters I feel, otherwise communication becomes really difficult,” she suggested.
Communication gap and harassment faced by deaf-mute people
Hearing and speech impaired people face a lot of problems in day to day life. Throwing light on this, the special educator recalled, “A few months ago, a deaf-mute girl was raped in Kolkata. When we went for her medical examination, I found there was a lack of sympathy towards her among the team of doctors. They could not probably understand her level of trauma just because she could not express her feelings in words.”
“Also, during legal proceedings, I’ve seen a tendency of advocates to try to prove a deaf-mute person as mentally challenged, which they are not. It becomes easy just because that person is unable to express their feelings in words. In reality, a deaf-mute person is mentally as stable as you and I,” she added.
Common misconceptions about the deaf-mute
Earlier, the term ‘deaf and dumb’ was used while talking about speech or hearing impaired people. Thankfully, we have become a little more sensible now.
“I am dead against the term ‘deaf and dumb’. Deaf people are equally intelligent as people who can speak, if not more. They are not dumb, which refers to a stupid or foolish person. As I mentioned earlier, another stigma attached with hearing impaired people is that they are mentally challenged, which is so wrong,” she expressed.
Judging and abusing hearing impaired people
“Some of them can make sounds from their mouth. They are often judged if that sound is a little loud or if they laugh loudly. Unfortunately, people judging and criticizing the hearing impaired fail to understand that whatever sounds the latter are producing while trying to communicate, those are not entering their own ears, so it is not possible for them to control the volume,” Rajani said in a disturbed tone.
“Some people often use abusive language for deaf-mute persons in front of them, with the confidence that they cannot hear so they will not understand. If you are using a derogatory term for a deaf-mute person in front of them, please be informed that they are humans as intelligent as you and can make out what you’re saying by reading your lips, so your behaviour hurts them. It would be great if we deal with speech and hearing impaired people with a little more sympathy, with a little more patience,” she retorted.
Treating hearing impaired people as equals
Before parting, the sign-language interpreter expressed a request for all. Rajani said, “Instead of considering deaf-mute people as stupid or foolish, please consider them as normal people just like you and I. That will make things easier for all of us. Also, sign language is not rocket science, if you observe, you will be able to understand at least a little bit. But most of us don’t even try to do that. We should treat them as equals; they deserve equal respect from the society. Thankfully, the awareness is increasing.”