Language and lack of inclusivity — in the world of the Deaf

A world where everyone speaks one language, through hands

What a wonderful, inclusive world it would be if everyone was able to communicate in sign language as well. This thought has been on my mind for a while now.

I come from a multilingual country, know two regional languages, Marathi and Hindi, and two global languages English and French and there are times when I still feel lost in groups where these are not the languages being spoken. Feeling left out because you can’t connect with the language, can’t participate in the jokes, and can’t contribute to a conversation, is a really lonely feeling. And if a person like me who has the ability to form and use words and sounds to convey and understand others, can feel lonely, I can’t even begin to imagine how lonely it must be for those who are Deaf.

Things we take for granted, pitter-patter of the rain, honking of a horn, alarm bells, church bells, birds singing, and just simple conversations to form and be part of social groups, are the things that those with hearing and speech loss are not able to enjoy, ever.

Earlier this year though I read of an orchestra in Budapest that held concerts during spring for people with hearing loss. Mate Hamori, the conductor of the orchestra, put together this concert hoping to bring music to those who otherwise are unable to enjoy it. He also put it together to bring the much-needed attention to difficulties that these people face in every day life. What this concert did was have some of the audience sit next to the musicians, placing their hands on the instruments to feel the vibration. Others held balloons to convey the vibration of the sounds. Some were even given special hyper-sensitive hearing aids. But all of them, finally were able to feel Beethoven’s Fifth symphony.

According to the Canadian Association of the Deaf, there are 357,000 people who are culturally Deaf, and 3.21 million hard of hearing people in Canada. In India, of the 1.3 billion people, 18 million are hearing impaired. As per the World Health Organization (WHO), over 466 million people all over the world have a disabling hearing loss, of which 34 million are children. That’s over five per cent of the world’s population which feels lost, alone and is forced into their own small bubbles.

So why not, when thinking about inclusivity, we start thinking about making social groups, public spaces, educational spaces, that are more friendly towards those who are culturally Deaf and hard of hearing. We, as humans, always pride ourselves for developing languages to connect with each other and yet have not made much attempts to learn and understand sign language that would help connect us to a large chunk of our own people. Why not, start teaching and learning sign language and understanding the Deaf culture, to ensure these groups are not left behind, ignored or isolated from the rest of the world.

Someday, I imagine a world where a person with hearing loss is not confined to a social group with hearing or speech loss and is able to participate in and enjoy being a part of the larger social fabric, without feeling lost, misunderstood, left out and alone.

Priyanka Ketkar
Multimedia journalist

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