The Birla Planetarium is Shazia Fathima's favourite place and she wants to become an astronaut. The 14-year-old girl has congenital rubella syndrome, which led to her hearing and visual impairment, but that has not been a deterrent to work on the computer, typewriter or do needle work. Her teachers at the Sadhana Unit for Deafblind are amazed to see this budding talent, who asks doubts and can solve Mathematics of Class V grade.

There are many deafblind such as Fathima who have overcome their disability to complete Class XII and a few who have passed civil service examination prelims.

These are the Helen Kellers of today and are an example that even a unique disability such as deafblind can be conquered, says Akhil Paul, director, Sense International (India).

June 27 (Sunday) marked the 130 anniversary of Helen Keller – the American author and the first deafblind person to get a Bachelors degree. For the different social organisations working to provide early intervention to this category, it is another occasion to talk of success stories of people who have fought multiple disabilities as well as to create awareness.

“Over two decades ago there was only one institute – Helen Keller Institute for the Deaf and Deafblind in Mumbai – working for the deafblind. Today, there are 39 organisations in 19 States,” says Mr. Paul.

It is estimated that there are over 4 lakh deafblind people in India, and identifying people with multiple disabilities is a challenge. A majority of them do not find place in single disability schools as the needs of the deafblind are unique. While technology has come as aid to the deafblind, they are expensive and can be afforded by a few, say those working in the field.

“We give individualised and functional education, where the curriculum is suited to the child rather than child being suited to the curriculum,” says Dipti Karnad, special educator, Sadhana Unit for Deafblind, attached to Clarke School for the Deaf.

Sense International (India) through its partner organisations is supporting over 30,000 people, but they say more awareness needs to be created.

Early identification, early intervention and appropriate rehabilitation measures is the message organisations are taking forward. “Every blind person should take a test for hearing ability and every person with hearing impairment should take a vision test,” says S. Prabakar, professor, Holy Cross Society, Tiruchi. The non governmental organisation along with other groups is organising the Helen Keller Remembrance Day to show examples of people who are successful despite their multiple disabilities and create awareness.

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Liffy ThomasJune 28, 2012