This interview aims to give an overview of the Deaf, Dumb and Blind school (DDB) in Indore and to raise people’s awareness in the UK about related development issues in India. First Nitin’s personal experience at DDB, then about DDB itself, DiA volunteers and lastly development in India in general.
1) What is your education and when did you join DDB?
Nitin joined DDB on 19 July 1989. After teaching the deaf children for 6 years, he then decided to take a formal course in special education for the hearing-impaired in Mumbai, while completing a post graduation in commerce, and got his diploma in special education in 1995.
2) What is your role in DDB?
Nitin describes himself as a special educator for the deaf. He taught the deaf children for 15 years then stopped teaching to become involved in the administrative side of DDB. Nitin believed that there was a lack in audiovisual materials in the education of the hearing impaired and that more visual impact was needed. He therefore wanted to change the system and improve the educational system received by the deaf people, in particular DDB’s language/ speech therapy teaching material. Thus Nitin has been working mainly to improve the institution’s resources, in particular the audio-visual centre, and to develop new techniques to improve the education given to deaf and blind students, at DDB as well as at a state level. Nitin is extremely interested in doing innovative work and research in the field of differently-abled children, in particular in the fields of awareness and prevention of disability. In addition to this role, Nitin acts as a coordinator for DiA volunteers and MSW (Master in Social Work) students. He is their main contact within the school and is there to support them and answer any queries they may have.
3) What is the purpose of DDB?
DDB’s goal is to empower its special students, through providing education and adequate training to deaf and blind students. DDB aims at making those special students responsible and independent Indian citizens, so that they are fully part of the Indian community.
4) What has DDB achieved?
DDB has existed for 87 years. In all this time it has developed immensely and has made huge progress. It has helped create a social change in the Indian society. Traditional “backward” thinking is that deaf/ blind children cannot be independent and are a burden to society, relying on support and donations. DDB is endeavouring to change these mentalities.
Important projects that were completed:
- In 2008 Nitin created a guideline book aimed at teachers and volunteers to support and guide them in their teaching of blind students.
- In 2006 Jay, a 2-month DiA volunteer, put together a Power Point presentation with the help of Nitin, aimed at providing guidelines on how to teach blind students, including mathematics.
- In 2003 the Heaven’s Harmony Group was created, which is a musical group for visually impaired children allowing talented blind singers and musicians from DDB to get exposure and perform in public at special events. Moin, Purva and Raul, ex-students from DDB and members of Heaven’s Harmony Group DDB is the 3rd institute of its kind in India and the first in central India (M.P.). It has trained many teachers who have since started their own schools all over M.P.
5) How does DDB empower the children?
At DDB the children get educational, pre-vocational and physical training, as well as benefit from cultural activities, art and craft, and the interaction with society through the school. DDB also offers the children opportunities to perform in front of members of the public in various domains – singing, drawing etc. DDB allows these children to become responsible individuals despite their “disability”. Saturday is reserved for drawing activities In 1997, DDB started using computers for the teaching of deaf and blind students. The children were taught pre-vocational skills, including MS Office and DTP applications (PageMaker, CorelDraw and Photoshop). However this was stopped in 2005 due to the change in technologies. DDB’s material and equipment had become out-of-date, and no longer supported new advanced software. Nitin is very keen for this teaching system to start again. This would be very beneficial for the children as, among other things, computers are a great to teach mathematics. DDB endeavours to provide support to children in every area of their life: on the financial, educational, social and mental side. DDB recognizes that every child is different and that each requires specific education. It tries to analyze each case from the start to determine the most appropriate way to empower each child. Activities outside in the playground
6) How does DDB empower the parents?
According to Nitin, parents either neglect their disabled children or, on the contrary, overprotect them. Both attitudes are wrong. Differently abled children should be treated as normal children. Thus DDB tries to motivate parents to make their disabled children responsible. Children come from different backgrounds and all have their own family circumstances. The literacy of parents, the economic conditions and their social background are all important factors which can all play a huge role in the child’s personal development – either positive or negative. The parent’s motivation to support their child depends on all these factors. To encourage parents to support their children, DDB staff meets the parents at school and also sends MSW students to visit them in their home. Families need to be cooperative and to follow instructions given by trained professionals. For example, in the case of deaf children, they need to make their children wear their hearing aid. They must also accept the importance of rehabilitation. They should be careful about early detection of deafness in order to allow early rehabilitation, which is essential. They must get rid of their traditional “backward” thinking according to which their child cannot be part of the community because of his/her disability. Therefore they must first accept that they have a disabled child. Then they must give this child all the support he/she needs, including medical and educational support. It is the parents’ responsibility to make their children speak and to look after them. DDB can only help and provide guidance.
7) How do you think DDB’s activities could be improved?
DDB is constantly working at improving and expanding its activities. But for this it needs support from the government and funds. DDB needs more funds to expand its activities in different projects as well as to buy new equipment, in particular to provide computers for the training of students (including repairs and maintenance of the computers). DDB also requires more trained professionals. But the low pay offered by the state makes it difficult to attract qualified staff.
8) What is your future vision of DDB?
Nitin’s and Mr Jain’s goal is to make DDB a complete resource centre in the field of deaf and blind education. Nitin is planning to stay in DDB in the future to fulfil his dream, that of developing and growing DDB. DiA-related questions
9) What kind of contribution do you think DiA volunteers make in DDB?
Nitin has had mostly good experiences with DiA volunteers. DDB can utilize the students to work with the kids, to teach English, do art and craft activities. Their impact, however small, is positive. The teaching techniques in the UK are different in the UK compared as in India; therefore the kids can benefit from different teaching methods. Volunteers can also help Nitin in his office on various projects he may be working on.
10) What do DiA volunteers can take from their experiences of volunteering in India?
What volunteers get from their volunteering experience depends on their level of adaptation and involvement. The more they get involved in their placement and in the Indian community, the more they will learn and the more it will promote cultural exchange. Their experience of volunteering in India opens their horizons, their knowledge of India. They might arrive with certain ideas about India but these change after they have lived in the country for 5 months. It is an extremely enriching experience for the volunteers. At DDB they learn a lot from the kids too. They get familiar with the sign language and enjoy interacting and playing with the children, and teaching them.
11) What issues do DiA volunteers coming to DDB usually face?
Volunteers may encounter difficulties due to language barrier, foods they are not used to, home sickness. They may also feel restricted in their movements or their capacity to interact with the Indian community due to the fact that they hold a tourist visa, which could potentially attract problems with the Indian police. However at DDB Nitin is there to provide support to volunteers in whatever issues they might face. 1
2) Do you have any requirements for future DiA volunteers from the UK?
It would be very useful for DDB to get volunteers with multimedia skills (animation skills, PhotoShop, Corel, Flash etc.) and artistic skills. General questions
13) What is the attitude of people in India towards disability, in particular deafness/blindness?
The attitude of people towards disability depends on people’s education and the economic status of a particular state. It also depends on the type of disability. The awareness of blindness is good in India because it is a visible disability. Consequently, as people can see the disability, they are more aware of it, so the visually impaired get more sympathy from people, which in turn means more funds. Conversely deafness is not a visible disability, which makes people’s awareness more difficult. In some developed areas in India such as Mumbai and Delhi, as well as the South of India, there is very good awareness of disability. However this is not the case in under-developed states, in particular in central India.
14) What are the solutions to this attitude?
Literacy is crucial to improve people’s awareness, thus attitude, towards disability. This could in turn lead to a better prevention of the disability in the first place. A better awareness could help decrease the percentage of disabled people in the community, in particular in the area of deafness since it is sometimes caused by preventable diseases.
15) What is the level of support given to disability in India?
There is currently a lack of funding allocated to social work in under-developed states such as M.P. due to different priorities, such as first setting up basic infrastructures. Therefore this problem of lack of funds is common to all social institutions in under-developed states in India. The high cost of new technologies is a serious issue. In Indore, where 3 million people live, only 10 audiometry centres are available – in which a common testing, which allows the detection of deafness in 3/4 year-old children, is carried out. BERA, which is a more advanced system to detect deafness in children at a very early stage, and which therefore allows early intervention and early rehabilitation, is even rarer. The issue of the high cost of new technologies is not specific to blindness and deafness.
16) What are the main development problems that India is facing nowadays?
Education and illiteracy, poverty, lack of basic infrastructures and the high density of populations are some of the major issues. However Nitin underlines the fast development of villages, where 65% of Indian people live. He believes there are actually better living conditions in the villages – people living in villages don’t suffer from the pollution in cities; they have betters roads; they benefit from many awareness campaigns and educational programmes. The fact that different languages are spoken in different states in India makes development difficult at a national level. But Nitin doesn’t believe that promoting English as a national language would make it any easier. The promotion of Hindi instead would be a very good solution. Indeed Hindi is close to local languages spoken in villages since all Indian languages derive from Sanskrit. Thus most people in villages know common words in Hindi, but not in English.
17) What help do you expect from individuals and governments abroad?
It depends on them and how much support they want to provide. At government level a lot can be done. Countries should work and cooperate together. They can learn from one another and exchange ideas which could benefit them mutually. For example, India could support the UK with innovative ideas in the fields of deafness and blindness. The UK could help provide teaching materials to schools like DDB. Mr Jain thinks an academic exchange programme between DiA and DDB regarding educational literature in the field of disability would be very beneficial.
18) What changes have you seen in Indore in the past few years?
Indore has seen major changes in the past few years. It is a very progressive city, which is developing very fast, day by day. It is fast becoming an educational and economic hub. There are many vocational training centres in Indore, as well as many medical centres etc. Indore is the fastest developing city in MP, before Bhopal, capital of MP. Culture-wise, Indore is a unique blend of all Indian cultures and traditions. All festivals are celebrated in Indore and it is a place where many people from other states live. Thus Indore is a great place where to get exposed to other Indian cultures. This makes it a very lively, diverse and culturally rich city. As Nitin puts it: “In Indore, we have all the cultural flowers of India”. Nitin himself speaks other Indian languages – Gujarati, Marathi and Sindhi -and eats various types of Indian foods at home.
Isabelle Payen, DiA Volunteer 2008