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Government must contribute to raise awareness: Devangi Dalal on hearing-impaired children

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A multi-faceted woman of substance – Devangi Dalal, an audiologist and speech-therapist by profession, has been instrumental in empowering the less-abled children and adults. It’s her belief to not classify these children as different. Dalal believes in imparting positivity to hearing-impaired people, which will help them in every walk of life.

With a strong career, spanning over 25 years, Devangi Dalal specialises in Audiology & Speech Therapy, assessing children and adults with varying hearing, speech, voice and neurological disorders and typically planning rehabilitation programs to improve their functioning at home and in the community. She is the first Indian audiologist to receive the Humanitarian Award from the American Academy of Audiology in the year 2012.

Apart from all the workshops, she has conducted and the aspiration to do something for the betterment of the society, Devangi Dalal has also authored books in Gujarati and Hindi books to create awareness on the problems faced by hearing-impaired children, providing solutions for the same.

In an interview, she talks about her career, her outlook towards these children, her thoughts about the government’s involvement in such cases, and much more.

Please tell us about how speech therapy has improved the lives of people who have lost confidence in themselves by considering this a disability?

Devangi Dalal: In my career spanning over 25 years, I have realized that building confidence in people with hearing impairment is a step-by-step process in which speech therapy is just one of the many factors.

Firstly, there is a lot of social stigma towards speech/hearing impaired people in India. In addition, there are a lot of myths and misconceptions, linguistic barriers and ignorance surrounding hearing impairment in our country due to which people may not even come forward to seek help, out of embarrassment.

The primary step is to spread awareness and make them understand the benefits of speech therapy, which is very beneficial for the person affected and the families. Once they come in for speech therapy, there are various tools, techniques and fun activities to slowly and steadily help them overcome the initial hurdles of their disability, move towards their goal and which in turn slowly builds their confidence.

One point of utmost importance what everyone should keep in mind is one must not use gestural language or incomplete statements or words while communicating with hearing impaired people. This will not only make them lose their confidence but will also discourage them to speak normally.

Dino Morea helps fit a hearing aid to a kid as Dr.Farhad Vijay Arora, Mukesh Rishi and Devangi Dalal watch on at the JOSH Foundation-ATOS free digital hearing aid distribution initiative

Do you believe that government should separately contribute to this field of yours in terms of monetary help or through some other efforts?

Devangi Dalal: Yes. I strongly believe that the Government’s involvement should increase to create awareness, and a few policy changes are the need of the hour. In countries like the US and UK, they have pediatric protocols that are followed where new born children are screened for hearing during first few days itself. We have seen cases where children in India are neglected from this check for many years. Sometimes, children are screened for the first time when they are as old as seven years. Worst of all, in rural areas they are still not aware how to deal with these children.

This is where the Government authorities can play a very important role in early detection of speech and hearing impairment. They can also help by creating protocols so that every child is screened, and proper timely help can be provided. In fact, the Government should run campaigns similar to the Polio Vaccination and promote early screening of hearing.

Why do you believe hearing impairment or speech issues are something that people should closely heed to?

Devangi Dalal: Human beings, on a fundamental level, need to be part of a group where they are understood, accepted and heard. Hearing impairment and speech issues, if not detected and addressed at an early stage, can cause social withdrawal and a deep lack of self-confidence due to difficulty in communicating with other people. If done correctly at the right time, speech therapy can make a big difference in the life of the people affected and their families helping them integrate with society faster.

Tell us Josh Foundation and how it works to help specially-abled people?

Devangi Dalal: JOSH is a movement founded to support hearing impaired children with state-of-the-art medical technologies couples with rehabilitation programs. Our foundation also works towards creating awareness about the need of integration of hearing and speech impaired children in normal society.

We have been able to donate digital hearing aids and proper rehabilitation programs to more than 1000 children and it has made a great difference in their lives. We are also actively involved in getting teachers and trustees involved and have so far been able to make children of 12 schools wear 100% digital hearing aids. Over the past 12 years, JOSH has also organized various events such as elocution competitions, talent contests, group dance competitions, personalized education and career counselling, conducted seminars to spread awareness etc. to encourage these children.

Is your foundation active globally in spreading the word about hearing impairment and other related special abilities?

Devangi Dalal: JOSH is a very well-known and trusted foundation that has collaborated with a lot of international organizations and renowned professionals, including those who are doing great work for the cause in their respective countries. We are working with these bodies and to find innovative solutions and jointly solve problems faced by people with such disabilities. We are in the process of collaborating with a large international organization to conduct seminars in our country and spread awareness about hearing and speech impairment, remedial action and the latest technological advancements in this field.

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