NGO seeks recognition of deafblind people under a special category

As the 2005 film Black, starring Amitabh Bachchan and Rani Mukherjee, amply illustrates, deafblindness can be one of the most isolating disabilities. As 95 per cent of what we know about the world is learnt through eyes and ears, deafblind people are aware of only five per cent of their environment.

Sense International, a non-governmental organisation working with deafblind people across the country, estimates that there are at least five lakh deafblind people in the country.

“But, we have been able to help only 45,000 of these people over the last 15 years that we have been working in this area,” confesses Deepak Krishnasharma from Sense International.

He spoke to The Hindu on the sidelines of a meeting on Friday at the National Association for the Blind (NAB) to create awareness about this disability among NGOs, government officials and families of those suffering from this condition.

‘No schemes’

He says the problem is that there is no special government scheme for deafblind people. They are not even listed as a special category in the list of disabilities under the People with Disabilities Act.

“A Bill was drafted and tabled in the Parliament in June 2011, but it hasn’t been passed due to the various disruptions caused by various scams and agitations such as the one for the passage of the Lokpal Bill,” he says.

According to Mr. Krishnasharma, recognition of deafblind people under a special category would lead to special programmes for them under various heads. “There are several government programmes for the blind and the hearing impaired, but there is none for the deafblind,” he says.

The problem is that institutions and programmes are designed for only one of the disability.

“But deafblindness requires specialised learning and care modules,” he says.

The NAB, where a centre for children with deafblindness has been set up with help and funding from Sense International, is also battling policy barriers. “There is no single government institution where a child with deafblindness can be diagnosed and given a consolidated disability certificate,” says K.M. Nagaraj, coordinator of NAB’s deafblind project.

Parents and guardians are put through severe hardships trying to get something as simple as a disability certificate. “It would go a long way if the government sets up a nodal centre where these people can be treated, diagnosed and certified through a single window system,” he says.

Contextualising the issues raised by Mr. Krishnasharma, Mr. Nagaraj says: “If the Indian government had recognised deafblind as a separate category, there would have been special programmes as well as funding. That way we would not have teachers quitting our organisation,” he says. Teachers at NAB’s special cell for the deafblind are paid only Rs. 8,000, but those who work under the State-sponsored Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan are paid at least Rs. 12,000. “Several of our teachers who were specially trained to cater to the needs of deafblind students have left for SSA jobs,” he says.