The Second National Youth Leadership Training For Differently Abled provides a meeting point for the hearing impaired from across the country

It's day two of the Second National Youth Leadership Training For Differently Abled organised by the Rotary Club of Coimbatore Texcity and DEAF LEADERS at Nehru College of Aeronautics and Applied Sciences. In his presentation K. Murali, the director of DEAF LEADERS (Deaf Empowerment Activities For Literacy, Education, Accessible Development, Employment, Rehabilitation & Sports) stresses on equal treatment for the differently-abled. The audience, comprising of about 40 deaf men and women look on with rapt attention.

An animated discussion follows in sign-language. A young man rushes to the stage, speaking with his eyes and gestures. “They are sharing their experiences,” explains an interpreter.

The training capsule (on from May 2 to 7) consists of several activities designed to empower the participants. These include film screenings, group discussions, talks and presentations on positive thinking, sign language training, etc. But, watching the participants tells you that the programme fosters much more than empowerment. Friendships are formed and new ideas are forged. Not just from Tamil Nadu, there are also people from Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Gujarat and Kerala.

Murali says that every person in the room is special. While some are students hoping to settle down with decent jobs, some are sign-language trainers and activists fighting for their cause. Niveditha Joshi, Chinki Jain and Pranay Duhey from Bhopal, for example are part of Deaf Can Foundation founded by 25-year-old Ashul Soni who is hearing-impaired.

“There are seven of us in the Foundation,” explains Chinki in sign language. “For a minimal yearly fee, we conduct personality development workshops, life skills training, English and Computer classes and relative health work for deaf youngsters from economically backward communities,” she adds.

Chinki is involved in social work. She, along with Pranay approaches limited companies for funds for their projects. “We communicate through writing. It's a little difficult to make them understand our requirements. Some companies visit our office to learn about us,” she says.

The Foundation also conducts dance and music competitions. “Those who fare well in our competitions will get an opportunity to travel abroad. Ashul is in touch with organisations working for the deaf in places such as the UK and US.” A good number of participants are sign language instructors. Twenty-four year old Ramji works in a sign language institute in Gujarat. “Only 60 per cent of sign language is common. The rest differs as per the local language. We are looking at making it universal,” he signs.

Sitting by his side, Gowtham from Coimbatore nods vigourously in agreement. In a piece of paper, he writes: “I'm pursuing a B.Com degree through correspondence. There are 75 of us who are working part-time as well.” Gowtham holds his teacher Prabhu in great respect. “He teaches us well,” he says. “Four of my classmates succeeded in job interviews recently. My friend Madhan Kumar is earning Rs. 12,000 per month in a website development company,” he adds.

The days ends with a riotous obstacle race that calls for team effort. Sign language instructor C. Ramakrishna Reddy watches it from a distance with a smile. He shows me his presentation ‘Caterpillar to butterfly' that talks of how change is a natural process that leads to growth. “I presented it this morning. The audience were excellent,” he says. “They were attentive and so full of vigour. The world of the deaf is completely different from the hearing world.”