International Day of Sign Languages Society

A look inside Visakhapatnam’s Omkar and Lion’s School for Deaf

Students of Omkar and Lion's School For Deaf engaged in art activities at their institute in Lawson's bay in Visakhapatnam

Students of Omkar and Lion's School For Deaf engaged in art activities at their institute in Lawson's bay in Visakhapatnam   | Photo Credit: K_R_DEEPAK

September 23 is International Day of Sign Languages and the Omkar and Lion’s School for Deaf explains how it works with children who are hearing impaired

Apart from a few shuffling of papers or the occasional screech of a chair, it is very quiet at Omkar and Lion’s School for the Deaf. A peek into one of the classes, and you see students attentively watching their teacher as she gestures and mouths her words. The students imitate her actions several times, until they have memorised the spelling.

For an inclusive world
  • The International Day of Sign Languages is a part of International Week of Deaf that will be observed this year from September 23 to 29. The theme for 2019 is ‘Sign Language Rights for All!’ which aims to ensure equal opportunities to hearing impaired people. It calls for governing bodies to give linguistic rights to the community and all sign language users.

Started in 1974, Omkar and Lion’s School for the Deaf is one of the oldest for hearing impaired students in Visakhapatnam. It was started by Shanti Ashram (established in 1914) in collaboration with Lion’s Club.

“While a few schools are striving to give these kids basic education, there is not much done for them at the college level. There are very few colleges which have special facilities for the hearing impaired students. Most of them are private institutes and students who come from economically challenged backgrounds cannot afford them. This forces students to take up labourers’ jobs which do not require much education,”says MN Aditya, correspondent of the school and president of the Ashram.

Bridging the gap, technologically
  • When Ahilya Damle learnt that her then four-year-old son Viaan was hard of hearing, the 46-year-old banker spent months hunting in vain for sign language classes or workshops. Unable to find any, she bought every book available in the market to learn sign language and then teach it to her son. She recalls spending hours trying to get the gestures right. A decade later, those books are of little use as she sees the younger generation learn it all from the apps.
  • “These apps are extremely useful not just for the family of differently-abled children but all of society. I have seen my son’s friends struggle to communicate with him, they would have to write down everything. These apps not just help in teaching the language but also be used to communicate,” says Ahilya.
  • Several apps based on Indian Sign Language like Indian Signs, ISL Dictionary and Indian Sign Language are available in Google Playstore that teach basics of the language.
  • Indian Signs is an offline app which teaches its users alphabets and numerals using pictures and videos. The app also has tutorials to teach days of week and months of the year. With a smooth user interface which is easy to understand even for a person who isn't tech-savvy, the app has preloaded videos on names of fruits, mode of transportation, members of the family, names of animals and cities. It also has videos on questions used in daily life like ‘How are you?’, Do you need help?’ or ‘Where do you stay?’
  • In addition to all this, the Indian Sign Language app has recipes of tomato pickle, fish fry and brinjal fry in Sign Language. The app largely uses videos to teach the users greetings, English grammar, festivals and religions.

Affiliated to the State-board, the school has 164 students from Visakhapatnam and surrounding districts. When the school opened in the 1970s there were just two teachers and five students. Today, there are 15 teachers who handle academics and extra-curricular activities. “We have three government aided teachers and 12 teachers paid by the ashram. All of them are trained in sign language,” adds Aditya.

For almost two decades Omkar and Lion’s School for Deaf was only a primary school. The high school section was added in 1996. This year, 21 students will appear for the grade 10 exam. “Apart from a nominal fee while enrolling a child, we do not charge any money. The ashram also provides hostel facilities to the students free of cost. At the moment we have 46 students who live in the hostel,” says Aditya.

Teachers use the Indian Sign Language (ISL). Every student is given months of training in ISL. . “We show them animation videos and colourful presentations to make learning a fun experience. Teaching Science or Math is not a problem as they are logical things, but teaching poetry or plays is difficult as so much of it depends on voice modulations,” explains Srinath Rao a teacher.

Students are also taught arts and crafts. In a specially designated arts room, the wallsare peppered with paintings made by them. In a corner are paper and cloth bags that they also make. On the occasion on Vinayak Chavithi, the students made clay idols of Lord Ganesha. “We have noticed that they grasp creative things faster than academics. The students enjoy the art class as I show them YouTube tutorials that teach different crafts,” says crafts teacher Sreedevi Sreeram.

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Printable version | Feb 20, 2020 2:39:42 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/a-look-inside-visakhapatnams-omkar-and-lions-school-for-deaf/article29467303.ece

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