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May 14, 2003

Disability no bar for computer skills

From: Gulf News, United Arab Emirates - May 14, 2003

Mumbai | From Pamela Raghunath | 14/05/2003

Pradeep Sinha and Zamir Dhale may be living in a world of darkness and silence, but that has not stopped them from learning a range of skills, including the use of computers.

Sinha, 25, and Dhale, 27, are part of the Helen Keller Institute for the Deaf and Deafblind (HKIDB) in the city.

The two computer experts of the Institute "are the future leaders and role models for other deaf-blind people and a hope to parents," says Beroz N. Vacha, honorary director and consultant, and founder member of this institute.

The duo also happen to be the first deaf-blind people in India to work deftly on computers, with Pradeep winning this year's CavinKare Mastery Award for overcoming his disabilities.

Both are set to travel abroad on July 1 to attend a conference of the American Association of the Deaf-blind in San Diego on July 12 with Vacha.

A short stay in the UK to visit the Braille press will be followed by a visit to New York's Long Island to get a first hand knowledge of the different ways of rehabilitating the deaf-blind, says Vacha.

"I want to be an expert in computers and teach the deaf-blind to be more skilled," Pradeep typed out on his computer.

"I am an assistant in the computer section of the Mini Braille Press for the Deaf-blind in this institute. I also teach the deaf-blind and help in the workshop for embossing the newsletter that is circulated in Asia," he adds.

Teaching the deaf-blind to communicate with the outside world is the biggest challenge and modern technology is a big boon to the disabled, says the founder member. Both Pradeep and Zamir are good in the English language and are skilled in touch typing, the two essentials of communication for those who cannot see, hear or talk.

For them, the Power Brailler, an expensive equipment, is the link as it intercepts the input on the computer screen through the Braille code.

Ordinary books can be scanned, which they do regularly, and read through the Power Brailler even as conversations can be keyed in the computer while the challenged persons can run their fingers across the Braille board to read.

Whilst Pradeep is busy preparing his speech to be given at the conference, Zamir is engrossed in writing his diary, some of which he shares with Gulf News .

"I was born in Pune as a deaf child and attended the deaf school in Pune. Gradually my vision deteriorated from the age of nine. When I was becoming blind my parents were worried. When I became blind and deaf, I started getting angry and very impatient with people because I was not sure of my future."

After training at this Institute and in other organisations, he now says: "In the Braille press, we hope to work and earn a living. We can teach other deaf and blind children and adults. We are showing the world that even we are earning like other normal people. I can do very well in mobility and can even travel alone."

While Pradeep often travels alone to Kolkata to meet his family, Zamir pays regular visits to Pune. Both do not want to stay in the institute's hostel where there are strict working hours, and are therefore living independently.

These are not the only two highfliers of the Institute, there are others who have abilities of their own, says a proud Vacha.

Mahesh Joshi, 29, who has a hearing impairment, was lifting heavy boxes in a factory until his family brought him here.

"He is a born artist who, after taking lessons in computers, designs greeting cards in Braille that are printed at the institute. He now earns Rs2,500 a month."

Dr Rajinder Singh Sethi was born blind and became progressively deaf. He is currently the editor of Deafblindness in Asia, a newsletter from the Institute.

Vacha is full of ideas to make the lives of the deaf-blind more independent and meaningful. Printing books of bestsellers in Braille, embossing labels for consumer products and bringing out creative reading material for children are just some of her plans.

Serious attention to the deaf-blind may have been given only in the last few years, but Vacha, now 75, saw the need to establish such a school more than 25 years ago. "On a rainy day on July 11 1977, we started this institute in one of our teacher's home with two deaf-blind children and one deaf child, their parents and three trained teachers."

A big boost for the Institute came in 1993 when it got land from the government in Vashi, Navi Mumbai, to open a hearing testing facility and diagnostic centre at the Aditya Birla Centre complex.

It is estimated that the number of people with a disability in India is over 90 million, while the number of deaf-blind, based on information from community-based projects, could be 450,000 in the country.

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