EnAble India, which works for the empowerment of persons with disabilities, launched the "One Sign Per Day" campaign earlier this month.
Following a simple online-registration process, interested persons will be sent videos of one sign-word a day through email or WhatsApp or both every day. This will continue till September 25 which marks the World Deaf Day.
Since April this year, EnAble India has been running the "Finger Chat" initiative across five cities - Bengaluru, Pune, Delhi, Mumbai and Kochi. It is an inclusive community gathering of people who are interested in learning the Indian Sign Language (ISL).
The gatherings, held weekly or on alternate weeks in others, see a mix of volunteers and participants, including people with speech and hearing impairment.
Vishnu Soman, who has been managing both the projects, says that the idea cropped up when they were working on their annual event. “We wanted to prepare our volunteers so that they could communicate properly with persons with hearing and speech impairment. A lot of people later asked us to inform them if we ever did something similar again.”
He says that it is not enough if just those with hearing or speech impairment learn the sign language and that there is a need for society to do the same.
"There are several applications of sign-language. For example, a lot of corporates are now hiring persons with disabilities and learning the sign-language will help them a lot,” he states.
The sessions have also proved helpful for families of persons with disabilities. Like the parents and family members of a three-year-old deaf child who went for the 'Finger Chat' session in Pune recently. They wanted to take a course in sign language but did not know who to approach for it in the city. The co-ordinator put them in touch with EnAble India, which connected them to a person who teaches sign-language over Skpye.
Vishnu says that parents mostly want to teach their child speech therapy. “But speech therapy is language specific. If you learn Marathi, you can lip read only Marathi. This problem however does not occur with sign language,” he says.
He also stresses on the need to standardize the Indian Sign Language (ISL), as the American Sign Language (ASL), which is mostly used in India, is based on the culture of America.
Words, he says, can have different connotations in different countries. "Like the word 'respect' can be treated and used in different contexts in India and America. Same for 'temple', the sign for which could be used in America to denote a 'church'. Similarly, when it comes to relationships, we use a variety of words for uncle, aunty, brothers, sisters, cousins, etc."
How quickly can one grasp the sign-language? According to Vishnu, it is a pretty easy language to learn and a person can learn the alphabets in an hour’s time.
Getting a grasp over words and expressions however is likely to take more time.
Close to 200 registrations have been made for “One Sign Per Day” since it was launched on September 1. A few companies have also asked the NGO for the all the videos once the campaign is wrapped up.
At present, they are focusing on words like 'What', 'How', 'When', and 'Where' for the videos.
The NGO could launch another leg of the campaign towards the end of this year to coincide with International Day of Persons with Disabilities on December 3.