CHENNAI: She was an author, political activist and lecturer whose story is known around the world. A person with hearing and visual disability from the age of 19 months, the life of this ‘miraculous worker’ who broke the isolation of being different has inspired many and is a tale that spreads optimism among people. On Helen Keller day, City Express walks through the classrooms of Clarke School for the Deaf and explores its Sadhana unit for people with hearing and visual disabilities — the first-of-its-kind in South India and the second in India.
Taking to CE, Leelavathy Patrick, the founder-director of the school, opines that awareness about deaf-blindness is lacking in the country. “Everyone knows people with hearing and visual disabilities. But the combination of both is very rare. Rare, yet prevailing. It is estimated that there are 4.25 lakh persons with hearing and visual disabilities in India,” says Leelavathy, who along with the late SK Nagarajan founded the school in 1970.
With just three students to begin with, Clarke School, located on a quaint road amid the chaos of the city grew rapidly. “Though we started as a school for children with hearing disability, we later added two special units for children with intellectual challenges and those with a combination of hearing and visual disabilities,” explains Dipti Karnad, a mentor who has been a part of the school for 43 years. The Sadhana unit has early intervention courses, special activities for children with multi-sensory and intellectual disabilities. “Each child is different and their grasping level and degree of the condition varies. So, they need a different approach to train them,” says Dipti.
As we walk along the corridors of the building, we pass by classrooms for children with varying conditions and finally halt in front of the early intervention classroom for those with hearing and visual disabilities. Jayanthi Narayanan, mentor for 31 years at Clarke School, is seen playing enthusiastically with 5-year-old Kishanth, who has mild vision impairment. “These children are under 10 years of age. Some have sensory disabilities and we train them in activities that involve touching and holding objects. This way, they begin to feel and understand the nature of an object,” explains Jayanthi. The Sadhana unit now houses 34 children between the age of 4 and 27 years mostly with hearing and visual disabilities.
As we move from the early intervention centre, a group of children methodically make their own beaded jewellery with the help of their mentor. “They are extremely interested in such activities which train them to be creative and improve their sensory abilities,” she says. As we talk to Jayanthi, the sound of a typing Braille machine comes from the adjacent table. “She’s learning to press one key first. Braille is a need for these children and having a strong foundation is important. Sometimes they get excited and type a lot!” she smiles.
According to teachers, the most important form of communication for them is tactile signing. “This is how they communicate. The hand-over-hand movement and tactile fingerspelling is what they mainly get trained in. There’s a boy who is excellent at it!” Dipti says and introduces us to Arihant, a whiz kid. Moving his hand and fingers quickly, he greets us and gestures, “I want to become a sign language teacher and help others.” He goes on, “I am confident that I can mentor anyone and I will surely make a change.”
The school offers a two-year teacher training diploma in special education – to train kids with hearing and visual disability. Submit applications by July 10. Call: 28475422