Tushar Viradiya (Deaf Empowerment Trainer at Centum GRO) and I attended a conference from the 21-23 February ‘18 organized by the National Convention of Educators of Deaf (NCED) and hosted by Dr. Shakuntala Misra National Rehabilitation University (DSMNRU) in Lucknow, India.
Our abstract and paper got selected and I breathed a sigh of relief as Tushar and I were the only deaf presenters at this conference. And as predicted, majority of the attendees were prominent educators (non-deaf) with the fanciest degrees and all gung-ho about fixing the deaf using modern aids, appliances, surgery and of course vocational skills.
We walked in on the first day to a very dull audience. The huge hall was dotted with small and isolated pocket of participants busy having there own private conversations, while the presenter on stage was droning on about the benefit of Cochlear Implants in a dis-interested manner.
I had brought my own sign language interpreter due to my convenience and requirement of comprehensive English translations of the information. As soon as we took our seats, all the deaf participants’ and students of the various institutes had their eager eyes observing me. I saw an ISL interpreter signing on stage so I was relieved about the access to lectures and presentations on stage.
I told my interpreter to start signing for me where he took a position. Within minutes, the other ISL interpreter on stage came down and stopped interpreting! All the eyes were now on my interpreter. I reached out to the team of ISL interpreters at DSMRU immediately and informed them about the difference in the translation/interpreting I required and the fact that they need to continue providing interpreting/translating on stage. The DSMNRU interpreters responded stating that they were too exhausted as they were under-staffed and working since 7 am.
Whoa, I thought- What about the access to information for all the deaf and hard-hearing students, trainees and teachers in the audience? It was a clear example of Audism right in front of me!
I had to leave along with my interpreter as we were gaining too much attention. I couldn’t have them take advantage of my interpreter and get away with the situation. From that point onward- the entire deaf audience decided to come outside. That is another story.
During the lunch break, I had the opportunity to meet the head of the department (H.I. yes they call them Hearing and Speech Impaired) at DSMNRU. I apprised him about the situation (as he obviously didn’t seem to have a clue) how all the dis-interested hearing audience still naturally had access to everything being presented on the stage regardless whether they understand or not and how unfair it was to not have a team of interpreters ready and standing-by for the lectures one after the another. He instead of taking charge and assisting with the accessibility part started sharing his own opinions of how hard he had fought to be part of the deaf community. How he had been emotionally, psychologically and academically connected with these deaf students all the time (I sincerely was trying to establish the truth in this statement). I acknowledged and thanked him for his efforts but again emphasized the need of providing access to all. I offered to help coordinate with the accessibility services next year. I also made a point to mention how the interpreters were struggling as none of the abstracts/papers were shared beforehand so they couldn’t be prepared. He appreciated and accepted this to be a good idea (again lack of awareness of why and how interpreters need to be prepared).
Sadly, by causing this ‘dilemma’ - one of the organizing committee members informed the deaf students not to join the lectures post lunch as the interpreters were not available. Apparently, there was no request for a budget for accessibility services from NCED which could easily be the solution. This has been a challenge for the interpreters where they had been overworked and performing without any preparations and obviously sans support.
Another scenario - there was a cultural program on the second evening (22nd) of the conference which I was quite excited to see. The positive side was that majority of the performance were by deaf and hard of hearing students from various schools and institutes. The disappointment was that the organizers of the cultural program were the interpreters. A conflict of interest. Juggling different roles can be challenging to ensure the access would be deliverable and it wasn’t. Kindly enough, my interpreter helped out.
Another disappointment was the coordination of the program which was so disorganized. The last performance was the perhaps the best performance, performed Indian sign language and directed by a deaf student of the bachelor program offered at DSMNRU. It was an emotional story about Hellen Keller. Phenomenal performance - yet 90% of the hearing audience had left the theater to eat dinner.
Ignorance. Selective. Showed no respect toward to their hard work. Audism again.
On the last day of the conference (23rd), more than 50 deaf students, trainees and teachers showed up early to catch my presentation which slotted in the morning. As Tushar and I went up on stage getting ready to present- all that fire jotted up inside of me and I was inspired to give it my best. We emphasized on how the hearing educators need to become our allies and learn to LISTEN to us (deaf students). We (the Deaf and hard of hearing community) know best. That is the only way for us to make a positive change in our education system in India. Nothing about us without us!
The positive aspect of the presentation was that during the questionnaire, the president of NCED asked me if it would be possible to invite the NCED members to learn more about the deaf empowerment curriculum. I was so relieved to hear that.
I mentioned to the president that I would offer my best assistance to be a part of the conference committee by focusing on providing full accessibility services and coordinate the cultural program where they will not be disappointed.
The invitation to present to the 10th and 12th class students by two of Centum GRO’s former students from the very first batch who are now working as teachers at the DSMNRU was perfect to wrap up the three days. As soon as we entered the classroom- all the students stood up with veneration and I could see so many pairs of eyes, full of hope. Our lecture of about 60 minutes had an amazing effect. Alas the NCED lecturers and teachers couldn’t see but certainly need to see this kind of effect and find faith and trust in us (deaf academicians) to be the ones to lead and change the education system for the betterment of our future deaf children.
My advice to the deaf community in India and the world - any conferences that are related to Deaf or Disabilities - it is crucial for us to attend in large numbers so we can create a ripple effect otherwise the change will not happen. Next year - I am asking YOU to show your presence and show no fear for your demand of ‘right to accessibility’.
And last but not the least- we did indulge in the world famous Awadhi cuisine. Eating the delicious Mughlai kababs at one of the oldest restaurant, ‘Tundey Kababi’ in Aminabad which exists since 1905. An ironical fact - tundey or tunda means a person with one arm and he was the Nawab’s cook (who only had one arm and cooked the best food for him).
*Vlog- a brief transcript which reflects this blog in Indian Sign Language* *this blog entry is a reflection of our own perspectives and opinions.*