Why Did I Join This Course?
For the longest of time, I had always wanted to learn sign language. Though I was diagnosed with hard of hearing (HoH) and fitted with hearing aids, I never really needed to learn sign language as I was able to go to school like any regular child. (It was never an easy experience, as I had to endure bullying from other kids who were ignorant about hearing aids!)
As someone who is a certified psychotherapist and on my way to achieving my degree in psychodynamic psychotherapy and counseling, I want to be able to work with the deaf community in Lahore. Often times, I see and witness parents struggling with their deaf child, and I feel very helpless. Why can’t I start a support group for such parents? How about starting a support group for deaf/ hard of hearing children who are seeking to fit into the world? How can we as a society make the deaf community more inclusive? These and many more such thoughts would pop up and I resolved to learn sign language so I can help out these people.
Through a series of connections and phone calls, I was introduced to Connect Hear, (Facebook Page) which is an organization based in Karachi that aims to teach and educate the deaf community and help them find job placements. They were holding a sign language class in Lahore and I knew immediately I had to sign up.
For six weeks, we met every Saturday and Sunday for three hours. I had never learned sign language, but in these six weeks, I managed to pick up enough skills to have a decent conversation with a deaf person.
Through this post, I wanted to share my experience of this course and the awesome teachers we had: Sahar Sajid and Saad Rana (I didn’t get the opportunity to get a detailed interview with Saad as of now, so that may happen later!)
When I first met Sahar, I felt like she was a regular person just like any one of us. She had amazing sign language skills and I was highly impressed at how well she would communicate through her hands’ gesture. When I asked her why she learned sign language, she told me she is a CODA Person. I was confused for a second and she clarified CODA is Child of Deaf Adult- both her parents are deaf, and she had to learn sign language at a very early age from her parents.
Sahar’s father’s friend is an event organizer and he really motivated her to come and join his events and work as a sign language interpreter. He encouraged her to do this and serve more people like this so they could create a bridge between the hearing and deaf people. Since then, she has been giving classes to teachers/people. Which is how she is working with Connect Hear.
Speaking to her, I asked Sahar how the response has been to her teaching. She replied with a smile, “It was really good. I feel so flattered when I got so much love form the people I teach. I am blessed to have so many beautiful souls around me.” When asked how hard it is to teach the hearing population, she shared that “when they come to learn, most of them even do not know how to communicate and react and is also very hard for them to use their hands for communication for the very first time but they really enjoyed that part. However, when they are being taught, they feel so happy and overwhelmed after learning this language and they really want to work for the deaf community.”
I wanted to understand more of Sahar’s experience of being a CODA person, and here is what she told me:
“When people take you for granted and you have to fight for yourself each time, is the moment when I feel the most frustrated. However, the way I overcome this frustration is that I make a conscious effort to not bother too much about them mainly because I know that they are not aware of my situation. I always make an effort to help other people understand so they can develop empathy for the deaf community. In most cases, a lot of people express happiness after having to make an effort to communicate with deaf persons.
My most happy moments are when I use sign language to communicate with my parents or any deaf persons. Others become curious and they often ask me what I am saying and I explain to them what I am communicating.
My life motto is to give deaf people a platform where they can do their best without any boundaries and any restrictions. I provide sign language interpretation services to many deaf people and I feel happy to be there for them no matter what. I think every individual is unique.
Two of my favorites motto are: “Allah/God loves diversity” and the other is what Walt Disney said, “The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.”
The highlight of my meeting with Sahar was when she talked about gratitude. For those of you who know me, I am big on developing an attitude of gratitude, and Sahar embodies the concept of gratitude so amazingly well.
“I look at things from a different perspective. My parents can neither speak nor hear but since I could, I became more appreciative of the fact that even when Allah can take blessings away from us and test us in a certain way. He still chooses to bestow us with countless blessings and things we usually take for granted. From our five senses to our homes, from our ability to think and learn as human-beings to being the best of all creations.
I wanted to serve the society some way because I know how it feels like to be among people who are not able to speak or hear you, who are not able to convey their feelings with words. So, I ended up studying education which involves knowledge about sign languages and tackling special people. I am currently working as a speech therapist at some institutes.
My message to everyone would be that don’t look down upon someone because they lack something that you have. The reason behind people not having certain things and people having those things is the same, Allah’s will. Embrace His will. Be kind and be humble.”
(Sahar is currently doing her Masters in Special Education from Punjab University and is also working as a Special Needs assistant at TNS Beaconhouse. She is also a highly skilled sign language interpreter and provides her services to the deaf community.)
Pakistan Sign Language
This is precisely what I went through as we went through the classes week after week: learning how to fingerspell, using our hands to communicate sentences and thoughts and feelings. Along with the hand gestures, we also had to learn how to use our facial expressions and body language because you have to remember the deaf persons cannot hear, so they rely on visual clues to understand your tone.
It is important to note that in Pakistan, we use Pakistan Sign Language- PSL- and not the American Sign Language (ASL) or the British Sign Language (BSL). There are so many words in the Urdu vocabulary for which the Pakistani Sign Language has been created (Think about it, words such as Chacha (uncle) or Dadi (paternal grandmother) are not present in the English vocabulary). One notable difference you will see is that PSL uses a 2-handed manual alphabet whereas ASL uses a one-handed manual alphabet whereas BSL has a two-handed alphabet. So, if you want to communicate with a deaf person in Pakistan, PSL is the way to do it.
With a large number of people in the class, all from different and varied backgrounds, everyone connected to each other rather quickly and friendships formed. There were some people in the class who are hard of hearing and wear hearing aids (that includes me!) and I just felt so extremely connected to them wearing hearing aids. I also loved the empathy and support the hearing students gave to us.
The teachers are very helpful and extremely patient with us. They spend a lot of time, with much passion and dedication, to help us learn sign language. The environment is very conducive to our learning.
We all learned a lot: how to fingerspell our name; how to communicate words such as thank you, welcome, please; days of the week; numbers; directional words and so much more. We also learned out to create sentences. We had a wonderful opportunity when several deaf persons visited us- and these people were working professionals. We were put in different groups and had to communicate with the deaf person. It was all done in a very safe environment and actually boosted our confidence in using sign language effectively. Thankfully, they were able to understand us quite well.
Our final exam was based on our ability to be able to communicate with the class three statements that were given to us. Thankfully, I was able to secure 85% in the final exam and got my certificate.
I am actually looking forward to the next session, which is the intermediate level, so I can continue to work on my sign language skills. (We will be learning how to sign language food!!) Learning sign language, as it turned out for me, wasn’t all that hard. One great thing helped us was a lot of repetition—so we would repeat a lot what we would learn, and that way, the hand gestures would become familiar to us.
As Sahar talked about it earlier, I was full of gratitude after having completed this course. Yes, I am hard of hearing and wear hearing aids, and still, I have SO much to be grateful for—and right now, I am extremely grateful to be given the amazing opportunity to learn sign language and do something meaningful for the deaf community.