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A communication gap

In his mid 40s, Zorin Singha, a hearing-impaired person, works in the finance department of a leading petroleum company. He also heads the New Delhi-based Deaf Association of India.

india Updated: Oct 10, 2011 11:30 IST
Neyaz Farooquee

In his mid 40s, Zorin Singha, a hearing-impaired person, works in the finance department of a leading petroleum company. He also heads the New Delhi-based Deaf Association of India.

For Singha, the Short Messaging Service (SMS) was the easiest mode of communication. To reach other people, he used to send almost 500 SMSes a day. But Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) guidelines, restricting the number of messages to 100 per SIM per day, has made his life difficult. “Now I use two phones to send messages,” says Singha.

Organisations which represent the hearing impaired community are protesting the 100 sms per day cap put by TRAI, since September 27. The All Kerala Association of the Deaf (AKAD) has written to TRAI seeking relaxation in the norm. “From the moment they wake up till they go to sleep, a majority of their conversation happen through SMS. Even exchanges like ‘Where are you?’; ‘Please come,’ ‘Wait’, are done through SMS, says AKAD vice president Rajiv Kumar.

“I am required to interact with around 150-200 hearing impaired people throughout the day since I work with them. But even if I send one message across to each of them, this regulation won’t allow me to do so,” he says.

Other alternatives which are available to them are either video calling or sign language. But both have their limitations. Singha, through his interpreter, Surbhi Taneja, explains that while video calling may not be accessible for all, and costly, sign language is not understood by everybody.

“If government reduces the tariff of 3G by at least half, the 100 SMS is okay,” is Singha’s view.

But relaxing the norm for hearing impaired people doesn’t solve the problem entirely. Their family members also communicate with them through SMS when they are away from home.

Taneja, 19, whose parents are also hearing-impaired, faces the same problem when she is not at home.

Though her parents have taught her sign language, she says that limiting the number of SMS has become a problem. “When I’ve exhausted my quota of messages, I call my sister who in turn explains it to my parents.”

Singha who has visited many countries believes that India seriously lacks in providing facilities for hearing-impaired people.

“In the UK, even television channels provide subtitles with their programs,” he says. He also adds that the deaf population in the UK is better educated, due to better schooling facilities.

Though his efforts have resulted in the opening of an institute, Indian Sign Language, last week, he demands more quality schools and colleges for the deaf population.

He rues that even after passing Class 12th, a hearing-impaired student knows very little.

Since every hearing impaired person doesn’t know English language, how does such a person compose the SMS? Singha explains it through his interpreter that “somehow we are able to do it.” He adds with a big smile, “It also makes our English better.”

Each region in the world has a different sign language through which hearing-impaired people interact. Singha and other activists are campaigning for the recognition of Indian Sign Language as an official language. Even in India, there are many forms of sign languages, though 75% of the signs are common among them. While TRAI guidelines have reduced the number of spam messages, the hearing impaired section needs exemption. SMS is a great help to them, since it does not require any external help while communication. Is anybody listening?