My name is Zorin Singha. I am the Secretary of National Association of the Deaf (NAD), India – a national advocacy disabled people’s organisation (DPO) for the deaf, by the deaf and of the deaf. I was born deaf and raised in a hearing home. I have lived in many parts of the country majorly because my father was with the Indian Air Force. Having grown up in a hearing home doesn’t leave much choice for communication development. Mind you, my parents did the best they could because back then, in the early 70s, there was limited awareness and understanding of the needs of the deaf community, let alone the opportunities of learning or using sign language. My parents then, sent me to St. Louis’ School for the Deaf in Chennai. That’s where I learnt to study English with basic sign language. Never had a chance to learn Hindi or any other spoken languages.
Anyway, moving on, having being associated with NAD and the deaf movement for over three decades, I have traveled to many countries for work and extensively in India. My biggest challenge has always been communication. We are a nation of diverse cultures speaking so many local languages. Because I could not learn to read or write Hindi, my communication with the hearing world, who do not sign and speak, read and write only Hindi, becomes almost impossible! I then resort to basic gestures in the hope that the person in front of me is able to understand. So when I travel, I ensure that I have my phone on me so that I could communicate through images if words fail me. Otherwise pen and paper, texting, I use it all.
I have an innate instinct to be aware of my surroundings. For example, imagine a deaf person is in the washroom and suddenly the alarm bell rings and the whole area at the airport must evacuate, but because the alarm was audio based, the person is still in the bathroom! Our barrier here is physical as there is a lack of understand of the emergency needs of deaf people at travel places.
I have been driving for more than three decades now. I have been up to the hills, down to the South – I love to drive and am passionate for cars. However, for a deaf person to drive in India requires jumping through many hoops. Until 2011, deaf people were refused driving licenses especially those who have profound deafness. The reason behind this was the individual’s inability to hear the horn. After long and hard advocacy, Supreme Court ruled in our favour in 2011 stating that the deaf person should be granted a license provided they pass the driving test. This was a huge victory for us. However, ensuring its implementation was not easy and is still going. Its implementation vary from RTO to RTO. Our biggest barrier here was not communication but rather attitudinal that deaf people just cannot drive if they cannot hear! Ironically, I was allowed to drive in Europe and deaf people from other countries who have international driving licenses are allowed to drive in India. This is a really bizarre contrast.
We have our own culture, our own community. We are also a linguistic minority. A lot of people don’t seem to realise that. It is assumed that we are very unfortunate, very disabled but no! These barriers have not and will not deter passion for setting out on new adventures. It may be difficult due to limited awareness but overcoming barriers would only change the perception of society.
Written By –
Secretary, National Association of the Deaf(NAD),