More of hear(t), less of marginalisation: A social enterprise champions the cause of the hearing-impaired
On International Day of Sign Languages, hear it for Atulyakala, a social enterprise of the deaf, for the deaf, and run mostly by the deaf. They are spreading awareness around Sign Language and opening up professional opportunities for the community through various design and lifestyle products.Updated: Sep 22, 2020, 22:52 IST
This International Day of Sign Languages (September 23), let’s hear it for and hear from those from the community, and those propagating inclusivity. According to the World Federation of the Deaf, there are approximately 72 million deaf people worldwide, with more than 80% living in developing countries. Atulyakala, a Delhi-based social enterprise founded by Smriti Nagpal, is empowering the community through various design-led initiatives.
Explaining how they work, she says, “The most important part for our enterprise was to get as many persons from the deaf community involved in ideation and creation.Our ratio is 80-20; most of our team members are hearing-impaired. All the channels, from designing to social media management, sales and marketing, are handled by them.” A part of the proceeds from the sales goes towards the education of hearing-impaired children. “We have tied up with two schools, in Jaipur and in Maharashtra. We help get them more Sign Language teachers,” she says.
Smriti has two elder siblings who are hearing-impaired, so Sign Language became a naturally-acquired skill. Her journey as a Sign language interpreter began when she was working with Doordarshan. And as she forayed further, she started finding gaps. “In India, there was not a formal Signing code for a long time. We used to follow American Sign Language, which has cultural differences. Words as simple as mother and women differ in the way they are Signed. Now that we have Indian Sign Language (ISL), it has become more standardised,” she explains.
Interaction with other hearing-impaired persons who wanted to lead a life of dignity in a profession of their inclination was what birthed Atulyakala. “I soon saw that there were so many such people who were into arts, photography and design. I started interacting with students at Delhi College of Art as they have a reservation for hearing-impaired persons,” she says. But there was a catch – despite having a reserved category, these schools and colleges didn’t have teachers well-versed with Sign Language. And that’s how teaching the language became an integral part of what she does professionally. “I don’t expect everyone to learn it, but at least they should not be surprised about its existence,” she says.
In the course of this telephonic interaction, Smriti helps us get insights into the lives of some of her team members. Over text messages, she helps us e-meet two of her team mates - Bhupinder Singh, 27, and Shivam Singh, 18.
Bhupinder dons many hats and has been working as a graphic designer, product designer and Sign Language trainer with Atulyakala since 2018. He wishes to see deaf friends in more creative jobs, and not be discriminated. “I feel very happy in teaching Sign Language as it helps to cover the communication gap between hearing and deaf people. I connect to people via my art and I want to create an inclusive society for all,” he shares.
Shivam, a self-confessed social bee, works in Sales. “I love meeting and talking to new people. I will meet you at our Noida outlet and showcase you the products,” he shares. He is currently studying in the 12th standard and believes that Delhi is the city where his dreams will come true. “
They regularly conduct Sign Language workshops, which are now done online. It is free for all and anyone can join in, and also volunteer in various roles.
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