Most of us wake up to the sound of an alarm. Can you imagine how different your world would be if you were unable to hear not just the beeping of your alarm, but any other sound? Consider, for instance, how it would feel to no longer be able to listen to your favorite song. The very thought is terrifying, isn’t it?
Sadly, this is the bleak reality for many underprivileged hearing impaired kids in India. Thank God then that we have humanitarians like Devangi Dalal who provide good quality digital hearing aids to them. In an interview with Mahevash Muses, the renowned audiologist talks about how she got started in her career and her work at JOSH Foundation.
Given that you are an Audiologist and Speech Therapist with more than 27 years of experience, you clearly have a passion for helping the hearing impaired. What motivated you towards a career in this field?
I believe one should go where his or her destiny leads. I had actually wanted to become a General Surgeon but I missed the mark by 6 percent! Later, I got an interview call for Occupational Therapy, but it did not appeal to me much. The interviewee then advised me to opt for Audiology.
At the time, I did not know anything about the field and learned that there were only 55 seats available in the country in 1988. Post some research, I found I liked the subject as it was really very unique. So yes, Audiology & Speech Therapy happened to me by accident! The passion soon followed suit.
Post graduation, I came across ENT Specialist Dr.Jayant Gandhi and started working with him. Gingerly, I came to realize that I am very comfortable dealing with children’s cases and they were equally comfortable with me. I loved the fact that I could make a huge difference in people’s lives by helping them hear. And that’s how it all started for me and I have never had to look back!
Tell us about the work you do at your NGO, JOSH foundation.
In the year 2003, my colleague, a trustee of JOSH Foundation and renowned ENT Surgeon Dr. Jayant Gandhi and I happened to visit one of the residential special schools for the deaf in Gujarat. The school was being managed by a trust with the help of government grants. To our surprise, 350 children were managed by only 4 teachers and some caretakers. There was no stimulation for them. Throughout the day, we saw all the children singing the national anthem in different gestural languages! These children were not having good quality and technology-based hearing aids and were unable to develop their speech in the absence of good hearing. This scene literally brought tears in our eyes. On returning to Mumbai, we decided to start a movement to create awareness, educate and empower hearing impaired children and thus began JOSH Foundation, an NGO for the upliftment of children battling hearing impairment.
At JOSH, we have successfully supported 12 schools and around 1000 underprivileged children, each of whom we helped with digital hearing aids. Out of these 1000 children, approximately 25% have been integrated into normal schools. We also provide hearing aids according to a person’s individual requirement as recently when I visited the USA, I figured out that if you do not give a hearing aid as per an individual’s requirement then it leads to auditory fatigue and deprivation.
We also conduct timely workshops on elocution, dance, robotics, etc for the hearing impaired so they do not feel left out in any way. Recently, we also organized a fashion show in association with Lions’ Club of Juhu and Leo Club of Juhu, where hearing impaired, mute, amputee and blind children walked the ramp in designer clothes and did a splendid job.
Hearing impaired kids and sometimes, even otherwise normal kids struggle to speak as well as most of their peers. How can our schools and colleges help reduce the stigma associated with not being able to speak normally?
Educational institutions need to do away with the myth that communicating with a few or lesser words and the use of gestural language will benefit the hearing impaired. Even a newborn infant only starts speaking after nine months or a year! Likewise, when we fit hearing aids for people, they need a lot of information from the environment and gauge what others around them speak before they begin to communicate. Thus, they need to hear us more and more often. Communicating with them in fewer words is therefore not going to help them.
Schools should also encourage parents to get their children’s hearing tested at early stages. All hearing impaired people always have some residual hearing. At JOSH, we have not come across any patient who has no hearing or has complete deafness. If we detect the same in children at early stages of their lives, then with the help of the right technology and a proper rehabilitation program, we can make these children near-normal in hearing and speaking. We can really empower them to be self-reliant and live their lives without anyone’s support. Most importantly, it should be understood and imparted that they are like the rest of us and should not be treated otherwise.
It’s 2019 and our society still believes that disabled people cannot accomplish much in life. What is your take on this mindset?
I am of the belief that the disabled can do things way better than any of us can because when one sense does not work, the other senses become more powerful and pave way for the non-functional one. I have noticed that they are far more focused, probably because they are aware of their shortcomings and have the desperate urge to overcome those shortcomings. In fact, when we organize dance, elocution and other such competitions at JOSH Foundation, these kids and young adults perform so well that you will not be able to tell them apart from their “normal” peers! Over the last 27 years of my practice, I have seen many of these children grow up to become Engineers, Interior Designers, Businessmen, and Businesswomen. I have to say they really make me proud!
Devangi Dalal is the founder trustee of JOSH Foundation. To support her cause of empowering the hearing impaired, get in touch with her at http://devangidalal.com/contact-me/.