We organised the 6th National Deaf Empowerment Seminar starting off on 18th & 19th April 2015 from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm with over 100 women participating from New Delhi, Telangana, various districts of Kerala & Tamil Nadu. It was indeed a sight to see with women in colorful attire reflecting the diverse culture and tradition of India, signing and communicating excitedly, as for some, this was their first ever Seminar and opportunity to meet deaf women from other parts of India. Dr. Surinder Randhawa, Senior Consultant, BAASLS Programme, Smt. Geeta Sharma, Secretary, National Association of the Deaf, Ms. Janaki, People with Hearing Impairment Network, Hyderabad, Mrs. Theresa, Women Secretary, Regional Women Deaf Centre, Tamaraserry, Calicut, Mrs. Renuka Rameshan, Director, Family Care, Coimbatore Sign language Professional Interpreter, inaugurated the 2-day Seminar by lighting the lamp, which was followed by presentations that made everyone take a deep look at each of their lives thus far and see what can be done through empowerment.
We invited the chairperson of Keral Commission for Women but they couldn’t make it to the workshop as they were travelling to Meghalaya for some other workshop.
Dr. Surinder Randhawa’s presentation, “Protecting Deaf women in India. Communication is the key set the tone for the 2-day Seminar. Digging deep into the mindsets of male chauvinistic society about women in India, many truths were revealed, urging deaf women to fight back and not have to suffer silently anymore, given the fact that anything that happens to a deaf woman is silent, and hence there is need for protection and time to make the voices heard.
Technology has been a boon to the deaf community and has helped communication system and dissemination of information in visual mode. Presentation by Smt. Renuka Rameshan, Director of Family Care, covered technology available to protect deaf women and girls and also provided tips on how to be wise in using social media and share knowledge that helps in personal and professional growth. Information about the latest mobile apps such as himmat, launched by Delhi Police for safety of women, and fight back launched by Tech Mahindra, originally for in-house, but made public after Delhi gang rape incident, were extremely helpful for the deaf women and the apps are deaf-friendly as with the press of a button, help can be accessed.
Smt. Geeta Sharma, Secretary, Women's Wing of NAD, stated a few problems faced by deaf community such as lack of interpreters and thereby lack of accessibility, lack of job opportunities, poor education facilities etc., and sought the support of the Government.
The question and answer session saw the interacting capacity of the attendees and many valuable suggestions were given. Shirley Somasundaram, Malayalam dramatist famous personality in the theatre field, paid a visit to the seminar hall to view the action and was impressed with the goings on and congratulated the participants along with the head of Cardinal Parecattil Memorial Renewal Centre, who also said a blessing for the deaf women and families present. A short boating trip was arranged for all to enjoy them and bond together in the evening. Day 2 of the Conference included an hour of education on the laws that every deaf woman should know and be aware of such as free legal aid, the power to decide, the right to interpreter, human rights, etc., after which an hour of group discussion was slotted for the participants to suggest changes and a plan of action to be proposed to the National Commission for Women Government authorities. Various points of debate and ideas were generated through this time. Smt. Janaki, Director of People with Hearing Impairment Network (PHIN) briefed everyone about the activities of the organization, reaching out to many deaf women and seeking legal help in situations where the hearing perpetrators needed to be brought to book and cited many case studies, which was a boost to many.
Domanic Presentation, MLA of Kochi, Ernakulam, spared a few minutes from his busy schedule to meet the participants and address them, wish them and congratulate them. One of the youngest participants, a final year college student, presented an eye-opening session on the tools to empower, namely, training, positive thinking, communication skills, education, leadership, teamwork, interaction between hearing and deaf community, self development, etc.
The vote of thanks was given by Nirupma Kaul, Deaf Women Committee, National Association of the Deaf summarizing the whole event. After thanking all the distinguished guests and participants, each city / town was presented with a set of information books published by National Commission for Women which included Problems relating to NRI marriage, Prevention of sexual harassment at work place, Aspiration rites relationship marriage and Meera Didi se pooch, to help understand the present day problems faced by women and know how to overcome them.
It was observed that the participants found the 2 days seminar really fruitful. When the feedback was taken from the participants it was found that most participants didn't know about the basic rights of women and it was their first hands on experience to attend such a seminar and attain knowledge about their rights. Many deaf women shared about their discriminatory experiences and they were counseled on how and why they should stand up for their rights.
From the great output received from the deaf women, we hope that more such workshops can be conducted for deaf women and their stand and betterment in the society can be considered seriously. We hope that the Govt. of our country and state administration will keep supporting us like they always have. From the suggestions we received, one of the suggestion which was commonly given by the participants was if Govt. experts in this area would come and meet deaf women and understand them closely and impart their knowledge about the rights of women to them.
Since the workshop was a lot based on how technology so recommendations were made to seek financial and intellectual assistance on how interpreter services via video conferencing can be made accessible to deaf women. Video conferencing services would solve a lot of problems for not only urban women but also rural women as communication is one big barrier for the deaf community.
Sign language plays a major role in the life of any deaf individual as it is their first language and their only mode of communication. But sadly it doesn't get the same status as any other language. Making sign language the official language of our country would solve the major problem of the deaf community. The education is very poor for the deaf as a. deaf schools aren't enough b. teachers teaching in deaf schools themselves don't know sign language themselves. When the very base is so weak then how can we expect the deaf to walk equally with normal world. Deaf women and girls at a major level are victims of sexual abuse and rape but their cases are never taken into action because they aren't able to express themselves cause of communication barrier and lack of interpreters. The sad truth is in India there are only 250 professional sign language interpreters for 18 million deaf people. Therefore, our only appeal is to promote sign language in our country and make it an official language. This in a major way will solve the problems of deaf women ‘deaf pride’ can be promoted.