Care about the deaf? How does the deaf communicate? Of course, the answer is simple – Sign Language. Do they have a social circle? And how do they build a communication channel with the hearing? Well, that’s a little difficult to answer. Someone realised the need to provide an improvement in the sign language skills as she saw herself and her peers struggling with the same to bridge the gap of communication with the Indian deaf community. Let’s meet Atiya Hajee from Pune who has spent her professional life in empowering the deaf and helping the interpreter community to enhance their sign skills in the Indian context. Her initiative called Indian Sign Language Interpreters Association – ISLIA is helping many interpreters a commonplace to upgrade their skills for effective transfer of information.
She was one of the very few initial deaf sign language communicators and faced a lot of roadblocks in early career days. While she travelled to different cities, her experiences taught her the need to include technology so as to provide quality sign language interpreting services. At ISLIA, Atiya aims to build a pool of trained and certified Indian Sign Language Interpreters with the right attitude to work as the bridge between the hearing and Deaf communities.
Previously, when the Indian Deaf community was not empowered, members would be passive participants in various workshops, conferences and meetings. The first few Indian Sign Language (ISL) interpreters had a lot of opportunity in signing, thus improving our signing skills. The downside was we got almost no platform to voice the thoughts of the Deaf community. At times they didn’t even realize that they had no sign for a particular English / Hindi word. They would express it visually and it was understood. That gave Atiya and others to be more creative, elaborate and expressive. When Atiya understood the needs she took a step towards peer education and starting facilitating them to improve their interpreting skills. The seed for having an association for interpreters was sown and with not much help coming from anywhere ISLIA was born. This platform is a first in India to voice the thoughts of the deaf community. With a vision to provide a common platform to the deaf interpreters in order to share their experiences, seek guidance and learn context Atiya has come miles ahead from where she started.
What is more interesting is that it’s the only officially registered association and senior experienced Deaf ISL instructors are a part of the Executive Board who share their thoughts on adding ethnic value to the community. For Atiya, it is about sharing knowledge and satisfaction she shares at the end of the day by being the voice of the community, which is a joy beyond bounds. The organisation together is trying to make sign language interpretation a full-time profession and seek understanding and contributions in their future endeavours.
Atiya is the trendsetter by creating the very first Indian Sign Language Proficiency Test to evaluate the signing skills of hearing and Deaf. This ISLPT is currently being used by the Indian Sign Language Research and Training Centre New Delhi. She has developed and conducted training for the first International project under ISLIA – Mauritian Sign Language Interpreter Training and Teacher Training for the Mauritian Deaf community.
Having changed her career twice, Atiya feels that it’s never too late to answer your inner calling. To her what matters is whether she has managed to make a difference in someone’s life. With 18 million deaf people in India, she wants ISLIA to be the best sign language interpreter platform available for learner and interpreters.
Contributor: Kashish Ambekar