‘India has five million people with communication disabilities’

2011 census has underestimated the number, says official

February 19, 2022 08:15 pm | Updated 08:15 pm IST

Former director of AIISH M. Jayaram, AIISH Director M. Pushpavathi and others at the inauguration of 53rd conference of Indian Speech Language and Hearing Association in Mysuru on Saturday.

Former director of AIISH M. Jayaram, AIISH Director M. Pushpavathi and others at the inauguration of 53rd conference of Indian Speech Language and Hearing Association in Mysuru on Saturday. | Photo Credit: M.A. Sriram

Vikas Sheel, Additional Secretary and Mission Director, National Health Mission (NHM), New Delhi on Saturday said more than 5 million people in the country are suffering from communication disabilities. However, this number has been underestimated in the 2011 census, especially considering the range, types and severity of diseases that cause communication impairments, he observed.

“I have learnt that many conditions that cause disabilities are not considered under the census classification for disability. Hence, the estimated number may be much higher than the numbers in the national census. This also shows the magnitude of issues that need to be focused upon by speech language pathologists and audiologists to cater to the needs of those who require services,” he said, in his address.

Speaking after inaugurating the 53rd annual conference of Indian Speech-Language and Hearing Association (ISHACON) virtually at the All India Institute of Speech and Hearing (AIISH) here, Mr Sheel, quoting the 2017 WHO report, said the report shows that persons with disability fail to access quality healthcare because of inappropriate infrastructure or inadequate skills of the healthcare provider. People with disabilities need and deserve the same quality of services as others without disabilities, he felt.

Individuals with communication disabilities are at a double disadvantage as they fail to convey their views and we as normal individuals fail to understand them. The speech-language pathologists and audiologists are the facilitators who ensure that their voice reaches the authorities so that they live with respect and dignity, Mr. Sheel explained.

Mr. Sheel said the government of India has unanimously passed the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act in December 2016 that has given considerable representation to protect, promote and provide opportunities for persons with speech, language and hearing disorders. The government has widened the scope of the act from 7 to 21 disabilities through an amendment and the citizens of the country are now in line with United Nations Convention on the Rights of Person with Disabilities (2006) to which the Government of India is a signatory.

Presiding over the two-day conference, M. Jayaram, former director, AIISH, and former dean, NIMHANS, who took over as the president of Indian Speech-Language and Hearing Association (ISHA), said COVID-19 irrevocably damaged the training of students in the clinical sphere. Speech and hearing being a clinical field, the situation was particularly painful and a cause for worry. Students not being on the campus to do their clinical work, and the continuous drop in attending clinical population almost to the point of waning, affected the clinical training of students, he said.

“Some of us are engaged with the task of salvaging the situation, but we have not found any solution worth implementing. I do hope that all the training institutions in India will take up this issue and think of conducting intensive clinical training programmes of a short duration in areas in which they have greater expertise, to help students. I expect the national institutions, particularly AIISH, to show leadership in this regard. Students affected should also make visible efforts to retrieve the situation,” he suggested.

On the occasion, .M Pushpavathi, Director, AIISH, received Dr. N. Rathna Oration award; Ajith Kumar U., Professor of Audiology, was conferred Prof. S. Kameswaran Endowment Oration award; and Rajapandian S. received the Prof. R.K. Oza Oration award. The outgoing president of ISHA, Krishna Y., Professor, MAHE, Manipal, was present.

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