Removing barriers, building bridges for the deaf in India

Since its inception, the Deaf Enabled Foundation has tried to bridge the gap between the deaf and hearing enabled.

“Communication is a vital part of existence. Animals communicate with each other and so do birds. So, why shouldn’t [deaf] persons communicate with hearing-enabled people?” asks Ramya Miryala, Chief Operating Officer at the Deaf Enabled Foundation.

Ramya is the only hearing-enabled person in her family; her parents and sister are deaf. Having worked as a sign language interpreter before, she could understand the struggles of the deaf early on.

J.S.K. Rao (1967-2001), a hearing-enabled person, was a pioneer in the field of empowering deaf people. One of Rao’s friends had a child who was deaf. While learning about sign language with his friend, Rao became passionate to work for the betterment of the deaf community in India.

In 1991, Rao made friends with twelve deaf teenagers in Andhra Pradesh, instilled confidence in them, and mentored them to be the future leaders of the deaf community. He encouraged them to be self-reliant and his efforts made sign language accepted as a natural language in India's deaf community.

group of children and adults headed to camp According to The National Association of the Deaf, there are approximately 18 million deaf people in India. (Photo: DEF)

After Rao's death in 2001, the leaders that he mentored continued his legacy with their work towards the betterment of the deaf community. T.K.M. Sandeep and Hari Hara Kumar founded the Deaf Enabled Foundation (DEF) in Hyderabad in 2009. Today, DEF has branches in nine cities, including Kolkata, Visakhapatnam, Vijayawada, and Chennai.

According to The National Association of the Deaf, there are approximately 18 million deaf people in India. Apart from the social apathy, deaf people in India can have trouble in communicating with the world and are often economically downtrodden, as there are very few job positions available for them.

Since its inception, DEF has tried to bridge the gap between the deaf and hearing enabled. Education, women empowerment, youth leadership, advocacy training, sign language development, health awareness, academics, skill development, and providing useful resources to the deaf community are the major areas on which DEF is focused on.

“From 2009, I have done a one-year course at DEF which included English, computer application, general awareness, and life skills. After that I completed a three-year degree course in commerce and computer applications,” writes DEF student Billa Nikhil Reddy in an email.

After completing his education at DEF, Reddy got a job as a lecturer at DEF. He worked there for more than three years, then shifted to become a manager at Talking Hands Restaurant. Talking Hands Restaurant is also an initiative of DEF in collaboration with the state government's tourism department. This fine dining restaurant is located at Begumpet in Hyderabad and is run mostly by deaf people.

restaurant run by deaf in India The Talking Hands restaurant is in Begumpet, India, where all the waiters who greet and serve you are deaf. (Photo: DEF)

DEF has trained more than 3,350 deaf people, with 2,500 being successfully placed in various companies like Max, Flipkart, Amazon, Talking Hands Restaurant, and Synchrony Financial.

Rakshitha Kasuganti is a deaf woman with 100% hearing loss. “I took training at DEF for four months in 2015, and since 2016 I have been working as a customer service representative at Synchrony Financial. I’m very happy to work here. DEF and Synchrony Financial have helped me to fulfill my dreams,” she writes in an email.

Apart from education, skill development, and vocational training, DEF conducts health-related programs to raise awareness about HIV-AIDS and its prevention. Deaf women are given training on protecting themselves from sexual harassment and domestic violence, and are also provided information on pregnancy and prenatal care.

“Awareness on sexual health and HIV-AIDS prevention is very important for the deaf community because they are unlikely to receive proper guidance and information on sexual or reproductive health at home,” COO Miryala explains.

DEF teaches Indian Sign Language to deaf people so that they can communicate with each other. However, the hearing enabled can also learn the sign language at DEF. This not only helps the hearing enabled to communicate with the deaf community, but also assists in getting jobs as sign language interpreters in various institutions.

DEF has recently developed an app called DEF-ISL which can help anyone learn the Indian Sign Language. So far it has already been downloaded 8,000 times. The Deaf Enabled Foundation is an organization of the deaf, by the deaf, and for the deaf. It is truly dedicated to the empowerment of the deaf community in India.

Arundhati Nath headshot of writer

Arundhati Nath is a freelance writer, children's author, and journalist currently based in Guwahati, India. She has written for national and international publications such as The Guardian, BBC Wildlife, The Christian Science Monitor, Al Jazeera English, National Geographic Traveller India, Outlook Traveller, JetWings, Mother & Baby, Parent and Child, India Currents, The Swaddle, Indian Moms Connect, Parents World, Child magazine, Mint Lounge, and others.

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