Students enrolled for the Sign Language programme at IGNOU can expect better educational and employment opportunities

Vishwajeet Nair, a deaf boy, comes from a family of 17 hearing impaired persons, including his parents. He recently directed a film called Deaf can Study. Through this film, he wants to change the misconceptions prevalent in society towards people like him.

“Through the medium of films, I want to change the mindset of the society towards the deaf community. Barfi as a movie gave a strong and positive look but Golmaal gave a wrong impression towards people like us,” he says.

Vishwajeet is in the final year of his Bachelor of Arts in Sign Language at the Indian Sign Language Research and Training Centre (ISLRTC) at the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU).

The programme was started by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment with the Ministry of Human Resource Development in September 2011.

There are two approaches to the education of deaf in the country, one being ‘oral communication’ and the other being the ‘Indian sign language’. Oral communication is prevalent in more than 500 schools for the hearing impaired. But due to the lack of trained teachers, very little education is imparted through ‘Oralism’ and therefore Indian sign language has become the only means to equip deaf persons with higher education. “In the future, all the 500 deaf schools will be linked technically and be brought under the network of IGNOU,” said Dr. R. Sudarshan, Programme Coordinator of ISLRTC.

“At BA level, we select students who have passed their plus two levels, cleared a test and an interview to asses their ‘signing skills’ and English,” said Professor P.R. Ramanujam, Director, ISLRTC.

He added that there was a huge need to have language interpreters to promote education and employment of deaf persons. “The next few years demand at least 10,000 interpreters to assist the deaf community and also act as functionaries at public places like courts, police stations, railways, hospitals and TV stations.”

Currently, there are 20 students in the final year, including some international students. Once this batch graduates, they can get jobs as teachers in other sign language institutions and can be appointed as interpreters or trainers. They can go in for higher studies as well in which being equipped with ‘English sign language’ becomes important. Being fluent in the language helps them to read and write. Teaching students English sign language is one the major agendas in the first year of the institute.

The Institute is currently facing numerous challenges such as lack of qualified teachers, deficiency of institutional policy frameworks to evolve flexible and effective teaching-learning arrangements, lack of autonomy for the centre and other such institutes which want to teach and promote Indian Sign Language as well as training and research in the same. 

“Attitudinal levels, lack of sensitivity towards the deaf and differently-abled leads to active resistance to prevent the deaf and other people with disabilities to receive rightful education, employment and other rights as equal citizens,” said Prof Ramanujam.

The students also have to go through certain difficulties which they face from time to time be it from the people who do not belong to the deaf community or in general as well. 

Noah, a final year student from Uganda, said, “Back in my country people look at us with sympathy. They treat us like charity people, give us clothes and water. We are fighting against it. We also want the same education and employment opportunities as any other citizen.” 

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