The Principal of ‘Our Lady of Refuge' Home for the Differently Abled, A.Mary Bhuvana Rani, is a silent worker. Inside her house in Anna Nagar, slowly but cheerfully many lives are changing. She is allowing children suffering from hearing loss to be themselves. She has never advertised her work. Yet, her house overflows with children of all ages through the day and week.
She asks, “Why shouldn't deaf children lead full and productive lives when they have the ability, same way as other children?”
“There is a certain amount of ignorance about the deaf. Each challenged individual has different types and levels of disability. For the hearing impaired, additional support when learning and extra attention is enough. But in our society, there is lack of proper communication,” she says.
Ushering in joy
Tears well up in her eyes when she narrates how on the morning of the interview, a two-year-old baby responded to her call for the first time ever since his birth. “This is the result of early intervention and the mother's support and co-operation,” she asserts.
Sign language, which proves difficult and is time consuming, is last in her mind. “Hearing impaired children should be able to speak avoiding signs,” she asserts. For 19 years now, Bhuvana has been preparing children with varying degrees of hearing loss through speech therapy, auditory training, occupational therapy, fine motor tuning, picture conversations, lip reading, activity-oriented skills and hearing aids. At 35, she has ushered in joy in over 100 families, when parents gave up hope.
During her childhood, she did not chase any particular dream but was always “service-oriented”. Her father, who retired as the Head Master of St.Mary's School in 2000, used to share stories about the special children admitted to his school and the dearth of special educators in general. This made Bhuvana join the Rehabilitation Department at the Holy Cross College, Trichy, for training. She gained experience in an NGO working with visually challenged children and later at Leonard School for the Hearing Impaired in Madurai, where she joined as a special teacher.
Says Bhuvana, “my constant effort is to integrate them into mainstream schools. I draw them more into dance, yoga, drawing, playing.”
Hearing loss can affect life in many ways as it is easy to withdraw when you can't follow what others are saying. “Hearing problems can make a child or an adult upset and lonely. Deafness is not a handicap but an inconvenience which can be addressed with the trainer's and parents' care and attention,” she adds.
She often finds the rich parents to be indifferent. “They think once they have paid the fee, it is only our responsibility to handle the child. But when the child goes back home, he or she should be treated equal to normal only. At the time of admission, I make it clear that one parent, preferably the mother, has to attend the sessions along with the child to be able to continue with the training at home.”
Bhuvana explains the barriers experienced by the hearing impaired. “They need to have things carefully explained on one-to-one basis. That includes small and simple things like what they want to do or where they want to go. It can take time, but is necessary to be alert to their expressions and actions. They need extra help when learning new words and concepts.”
Bhuvana emphasises on early intervention. An infant responds and turns the neck in the direction of a sound in six months. When that doesn't happen, parents should realize something is wrong. After seven years, it becomes difficult to treat the child.
There are 55 hearing impaired children in her school now. She started with three, all friends' kids. Self-assured and sharp, Bhuvana's excellent oral skills and lip-reading, her ability to motivate a child to respond and speak was soon recognized by parents who started approaching her for help over the years. Today, she offers free training to 20 poor children and from others charges a minimal Rs.5,000 to 12,000 a year depending on the degree of hearing loss.
Patients with moderate degrees of hearing impairment are just as troubled as those who are profoundly deaf, she says, ruing that the deaf are not represented in government schemes.
(The OLR Home contact no. is 0452-2532733)
(Making a difference is a fortnightly column about ordinary people and events that leave an extraordinary impact on us. Email to firstname.lastname@example.org to tell about someone you know who is making a difference)