hackproject.org — Simplify Communication, create understanding — {July, 2016}

Simplify communication for Hearing and Speech Impaired

Students assemble for morning prayer

We have lots of quarrels at home. So many of us decide to run away from home and live together. We have had fights with many people, mostly because they fail to understand us.” says Kanta, a student of class 9 from the Central School for the Deaf and Dumb located in Kathmandu. “I have been mistreated in public bus, because the people around me and the conductor could not realize that I was different, different in that I could not hear them or speak to them.”

Kanta tells her story

At home is where, she says, most of her problems of communication lie. There is no one who understands sign language. Although her mother has made multiple attempts, she is unable to learn more than a few terms. That too she forgets very soon. Others she hardly converses with, as they don’t understand her and she does not understand them. She says that her home has developed its own rudimentary sign language to converse between her and others, but it is only limited to a few words to understand immediate things like eat, study, etc. She spends most of her time at home alone in her room.

Her friends repeat the same story.

Kanta explains her problems in this youtube video

According to some medical researchers, in Nepal, as many as 15% of the population have some hearing loss, due to lack of medical help, poverty and difficulty of access to transportation. Out of this, it is estimated that there are more than 700,000 people with permanent hearing loss. This number is 10% of total differently abled population.

It is estimated that there are more than 700,000 people with permanent hearing loss

Overwhelming majority of hearing impaired children in Nepal, as in most countries, are born into hearing families without a single signing member (member who knows sign language). Most hearing impaired go uneducated as schools for them are very few in number and not readily accessible. So most hearing impaired Nepalese have no opportunity to acquire Nepalese Sign Language under normal circumstances. Also most hearing impaired come from families with low income.

Our office here in Kathmandu is attached to the Central School for the Deaf and Dumb, run by the Government of Nepal. We see students, teachers and staff from the school everyday. They see us too, but most times we don’t interact at all. Sometimes from the office window we can see them doing their morning assembly, where they sing the national anthem in sign language. Every afternoon at exactly 2pm a person goes around the school beating a drum. We see them playing football from time to time. Our interaction with them always has been minimal since every time the language barrier comes in. We do interact with a few of them. There is the normal Morning greetings. Sometimes there is the occasional passing of messages written in pieces of paper, “What are you doing?”, “I want to learn computer how do I do that?” From us messages like “How’s is school?”, “Are you liking what you are studying?” These days we have turned to mobiles where they and we type messages on sms app and show to each other.

Most students came from lower middle class family backgrounds. Most were hearing impaired and speech impaired from birth. Most did not have anyone in family who understood or were able to use sign language. Most believed technology was the answer to their problem, that is why so much fascination with it. They felt neglected and misunderstood at home and in society. They felt technology was an answer as technology would allow them to show what they are capable of. Most wanted to learn programming and graphics designing.

Kanta and her friends feel that if simple, affordable devices could be developed they could use them at home to better communicate with their parents. Now a days mobile is good, but most of their parents cannot understand text as they themselves are uneducated. Kanta knows about speech to text and text to speech conversion. She says she has tried it along with her friends, but it does not work for Nepali language. She says many people have come to her school and talked about lots of technologies and products that could be used. Most are way above their affordability.

Kanta would one day like to be a computer professional herself. She feels if she can learn programming and make it as a programmer it will help her in proving that she is capable and also be able to show that impairments don’t come in the way of achievements.

For now all she, and most like her, want to do is communicate better, at home, with their friends and with people all around them.

Kanta asks “Cannot a robot or some technological device be created, that we can afford, that will allow us to communicate better?”

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