A Special Educator’s Perspective

Recently, Arati Devaiah, a special educator and counsellor from Bangalore, visited our Sadhan Resource Centers in Kolkata around Holi. This is what she had to say.

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Having been involved in the field of special education for over 20 years, I was excited and curious about my visit to the centers / “sadhans” run by VAANI. We travelled through the narrow bylanes of Kolkata with our taxi driver expertly maneuvering roads that I am sure were never meant to be traversed by a four wheeler. I was told that the Sadhan Centres needed to be situated in areas that are easily accessible to the people who used them – deaf children and their families.

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Our first visit was to Sadhan 1 which is situated in a two-bedroom apartment in a nondescript building on one of the bylanes. I was taken aback by the pile of footwear in the corridor outside the apartment as I knew that the trainers work individually with the hearing impaired children. Evidently, it was all about making maximum use of the available space. This less than 1000sq ft apartment had five trainers and an equal number of children and parents immersed in training.

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For a center working with deaf children, there was certainly a fair degree of noise. But far from being chaotic, there was a great deal of structure and remarkable focus between the trainer and the child. On observing a trainer work with a three year old child my mind was racing with questions: how often does the child come for sessions; when was the child first diagnosed with a hearing issue; how does the trainer decide what to work on in each session; is there regular follow up at home; are the parents given some kind of training; what schools do the children attend when not in the center; does VAANI help them with admissions; what qualifications to the trainers have and so on and so forth…

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I was introduced to one for the senior trainers, Ruby, who ably and efficiently answered my constant stream of questions. She started off by explaining to me, in great detail I must add, the actual assessment and training process. Every child it appears, after an initial assessment of not only their communication abilities, and this is what I found interesting, but also of their social, emotional and intellectual development, has an individual education program (IEP) charted out for him or her.

Ruby had a child’s file which included all his assessments as well as his IEP and work that he has been doing at the center since his admission. The IEP contained short and long term goals in all areas of development; there was remarkable progress in his work over the course of the year that he had been at Vaani. I was extremely impressed at how organized and professional the entire process was! There was full accountability on the part of the organization.

I had the opportunity to interact with a trainer. He was not only good at what he did but had a solid knowledge base and seemed clear about what was expected from him. The mother of the three-year-old who I observed earlier sounded equally confident about her experience with VAANI. Her husband was an auto driver and she commutes a considerable distance to reach the Sadhan Centre, but these hindrances paled in comparison to the belief she had that Vaani was the best option for her deaf son so that he could reach his full potential. I spent some time observing the other trainees at work – each trainee’s methodologies were varied, but the common thread evident in their work was the passion with which they worked.

After spending close to an hour at Sadhan 1, I was taken to Chip House which houses another of Vaani’s Sadhan Centres. The location of the Sadhan Centre at Chip House is a marvel by itself. It is a tiny 8X8 square feet room situated literally below a staircase. But the dedication and large personality of the trainer more than compensated for the tiny room.  She was introducing the trainee to the concept of colours as the festival of Holi was just round the corner. The session taught the trainee multiple concepts besides the names of colours. What was interesting, however, was that the trainer also focused on the responsibility of playing safely with Holi colours in addition to how one greets people during festivals. What really caught my eye was the trainer’s ability to communicate to the child the excitement and joy that is associated with the festival.

I could have spent many hours watching the sessions. The joy and enthusiasm of the children was contagious. It gave me a tremendous insight into the lives of deaf children. VAANI, in my view, has captured the essence of what is required to be done to move towards a more equal society for the deaf. The passion and energy with which the management, trainers, children and parents all work together is inspiring to say the very least. I wish them all the best so that their vision to advocate for the right of every deaf child to a life with dignity is realized in the years to come.

Arati Devaiah is a counsellor, who works primarily with families of children with emotional and behavioral issues. After completeing a  Masters in Applied Psychology from Womens’ Christian College, Chennai, she went on to study at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor in the Department of Education. Being a trained classical dancer she combined her interest in dance and special education to do a Masters in Dance/ movement therapy at the Columbia College, Chicago. On returning to India, she worked at the Sophia Opportunity School, Bangalore as an early intervention therapist and  a family counsellor for over 8 years. In the past few years she has been practising independently as a counsellor in Bangalore. Although she works with all age groups, her primary focus continues to be children. On the personal front she is a mother of two sport loving boys and a committed student of Odissi.

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