Reimagined Possibilities: Sense India multipronged approach to empower People with Deafblindness.

By auther pic. Faiza Ruksar Arif

June 30, 2020

Reimagined Possibilities:  Sense India multipronged approach to empower People with Deafblindness.

Happy Faces in Learning spaces: Sense India’ curriculum is engaging and enriching for its service users

Our society is developing at a rapid pace, and the message at the heart of this transformation must be one of social acceptance and inclusion. Creating a culture of inclusivity can't be an afterthought; it has to be baked in. Today's technology and educational advancements have created an environment where audio-visual impairments no longer hold persons with disabilities back– it's a world that can't see beyond their disabilities that does.

95% of what we learn is through our eyes and ears. Imagine what it is like to be deprived of these two senses. Deafblindness is a unique disability that combines varying degrees of both hearing and visual impairment. It is estimated that there are about 500,000 people with deafblindness in India. An overwhelming population with deafblindness experiences challenges of communication and mobility, additional physical and medical conditions coupled with extreme systemic neglect and discrimination.

Responding to this call for inclusivity and systemic justice is Sense International India – the first and only national-level organization supporting specialized services that enable children and adults with deafblindness to overcome these challenges and become fully active members of society. Sense India has been instrumental in bringing hope to the lives of more than 78,000 persons with deafblindness. The core of their philosophy and methodology is to create opportunities for children and young adults through the home and center-based services to receive basic education, acquire income-generating skills, and inculcate communication, resilience, and other crucial life skills within them. In line with this mission, Sense India's programs are focused on early intervention, education, healthcare, livelihoods, training and capacity building, advocacy, and rehabilitation services for persons with deafblindness and their families. Through this sustained collaborative leadership, Sense India has successfully established 60 centers across 23 states of India and works across the country except in a few northern and north-eastern states.


Happy Faces in Learning spaces: Sense India’ curriculum is engaging and enriching for its service users

With a rigorous methodology and program model in place, Sense India has transformed the social landscape for persons with deafblindness within the spheres of Education, Livelihoods, Care and Rehabilitation, and Advocacy and Policy Making. On the education front, Sense India has adopted the Individualised Educational Plan (IEP), a unique strategy that curates an educational plan tailor-made to the needs and capacity of each child. The education of children with deafblindness is then complimented through the training of their parents and family members. Furthermore, they have also partnered with the government of India's 'SamagaraShiksha ' (Education for All) program to capacitate government teachers across the country on appropriate teaching techniques for children with deafblindness in mainstream schools.

Within its 'care and rehabilitation' facilities, Sense India delivers specialist services to the homes of children with deafblindness through home-based care. To supplement these services, they have developed a community-based program that identifies and trains local field workers and volunteers to provide support for health, education, and vocational services. One of the most crucial components of Sense India's work with persons with deafblindness has been to provide improved visibility and inclusivity in policy through relentless advocacy.  Over the past twenty threeyears, the organization has worked closely with the ministries of Social Justice and Empowerment, Education and Health, and other relevant government bodies, to ensure that deafblindness is recognized as a distinct disability in policy-making. Additionally, the organization hascreated a 2,600+-member strong national network of adults with deafblindness, parents, and teachers of children and adults with deafblindness to meet, share, and take up local issues that affect them.


Heightened capabilities: Special Educator teaches a girl child with deafblindness how to identify vegetables

Adjacent to their work in education, Sense India began developing human resources capable of delivering care, rehabilitation, and education to persons with deafblindness by developing the first curriculum for a diploma course on deafblindness in India in 2000. They have trained 2,600 teachers on appropriate techniques for teaching children with deafblindness in mainstream schools and issues relating to deafblindness. Lastly, Sense India has established learning centers in the five regions of the country to develop expertise and knowledge on deafblindness. The Deafblind Regional Centres (DbRCs) assess information gaps and requirements of the region and accordingly develop programs and learning materials for children and adults with deafblindness, their families, educators, medical practitioners, government official, and the general public.

Over an incredibly enriching journey of 23 years, Sense India has positively impacted over 78,000+ children and adults with deafblindness. They have provided high-quality baby-screening and referral, home-based education, and other services to around 15,206 children with deafblindness through 60 partner NGOs in 23 states; as well we support skills and livelihood training to 500+ adults with deafblindness. Through collaboration with the government's national 'inclusive education' Samagra Shiksha (SMSA) program, they enabled more than 63,500 children with deafblindness and multiple disabilities to access education. Their portfolio of change includes capacitating and training over 4,379 government teachers on identification and enrolment of children with deafblindness in mainstream stream schools. Sense India has provided sensitization and capacity building training to over 4,000 NGO professionals, Government officials, Special Educators, Parents, and Caregivers, etc.

One of the biggest milestones and success stories in their bag of accolades has been the recognition of 'deafblindness' in the recently passed 'The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016'. For the first time in the history of India, deafblindness is recognized as a disability, and rights of persons with deafblindness are now protected. Additionally, Sense India has taken its collaborative leadership to the international platform and is now partnering with leading organizations in Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Maldives, and Malaysia to train educators and setup needs-based services for persons with deafblindness.

 Sense India has built a safe space for children with deafblindness to learn and grow, unencumbered.

The biggest testament to Sense India's success is not in its outreach numbers but in the stories of those lives they positively impacted. One of these voices belongs to Firoz – a young man born deaf and rendered blind in an accident, left to grapple with the aftermath of the incident. As a young boy, Firoz had a box full of toy trucks of different sizes and colours. He dreamt of driving trucks when he'd grow up. Despite the congenital deafness that kept him from hearing the roaring sounds of his toy trucks, he continued to be fascinated with driving these large vehicles. Firoz met with an accident that took his eyesight. Broken-hearted, Firoz stopped dreaming and wishing for the future and grew isolated and dependent on his family. It was Renu Gupta a specialist educator trained by Sense India that met Firoz and reignited a zest for life again, channelling his energy towards productive outlets.  Firoz is now a man transformed, filled with infectious energy, and communicates through Braille, sign language, and palm writing. He joined a partner NGO, MP Welfare Association for the Blind, and began to make small crafts and jewellery, soon becoming proficient and career-driven- with a new purpose and passion to make something out of himself. Firoz is one droplet among a sea of stories buried within the rich history and work of Sense India. Sense India has given the deafblind population a platform for visibility, a safe space for exploration, and a voice to reclaim their lives and live passionately and fearlessly. In the words of deafblind hero Helen Keller- "The most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched — they must be felt with the heart."

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Faiza Ruksar Arif is a content specialist and researcher based in Bangalore who has worked extensively on curating curriculum and educational programs for adolescents in Telangana. With a Master’s degree in Gender Studies from Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Faiza is on a mission to improve social realities by equipping women and other marginalized sections, with improved access to health, education and livelihood opportunities. She also dabbles in artwork and is passionate about issues pertaining to mental health and minority politics.


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