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There are nearly 2.5 million deafblind people in the world, according to data from World Bank, with 4.25 lakh children from India alone – a rough estimate. Inspired by the work of four mothers in the U.K. for persons with multiple disabilities, Akhil Paul started Sense International (India) with 23 deafblind people in Ahmedabad. Today, it works with 38 partner organisations in 19 states and has reached out to 32,000 people.

Brahada Shanker, Regional Coordinator (South), Sense International (India), monitors the four southern states by helping produce resource material, conducing training and promoting networking activities. She spoke to Liffy Thomas on the organisation's journey so far.

“Identifying people who are deafblind and those with multi-sensory impairment is a big challenge in India. They are a minority within a minority and parents practically do not know how to identify, while most NGOs work with one disability,” says Brahada Shanker, Regional Coordinator (South), who was in the city to participate in a workshop organised by the National Institute for Empowerment of Persons with Multiple Disabilities.

That's when Sense International (India) entered in 1997. From disseminating information, sensitising, conducting training and providing support to advocacy, it is an ongoing process. The 15-member core team is building a network of partners, which carries out the activities.

It offers home-based programmes, vocational training, community based rehabilitation and teacher training sessions. They adopt communication methods such as tactile signs, writing on the palm, tadoma (holding the jaws) and using pictures.

“The functional level of every person is different, so it is an evolving process,” says Ms. Shanker, who has been with the social sector for 13 years and specialises with children with vision and additional disabilities.

Starting four Regional Learning Centers in the country was one major step that Sense International (India) took to reach out to small network organisations. In south India, for instance, the Holy Cross Service Society, Tiruchi, has identified 13 partners. “We even network with neo-natal and paediatric clinics such that they refer to our Regional Learning Centers if new cases have been identified,” she says, adding that 2,000 teachers have been trained by them.

“Getting deafblind a certificate is the most difficult; unless otherwise there is a unique category it creates a lot of problems for which we are fighting,” she says. Until then, reducing social exclusion and improving the quality of deafblind people is their motto. The deafblind helpline is 1800 233 7913.

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