Hafsa, a youth activist of Girls Advocacy Alliance (GAA), shares her experience of overcoming the hurdles that come with hearing disability
Let me introduce myself. I am a final year student at a college in Dhaka. What marks me apart from most students is that I have to live with hearing impairment.
When I was two years old, doctors told me that my hearing faculties had been impaired after contracting pneumonia as an infant. But they had advised that if I were able to obtain high quality hearing aids, I could be able to function like everyone else. Back then, medical services were not as widely available. Today, Bangabandhu Medical College provides free cochlear implants to children between the ages of 0-5 years.
But this is not known to enough people. This information needs to be publicized at all levels. In this case, the local social services and disabled persons’ organizations play a vital role in creating awareness.
I believe that if the government subsidizes free hearing aids for children from poor families as soon as the impairment is detected, it can ease a lifetime of financial burden.
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Sustainable Development Goals 3
“Coverage of essential health services (defined as the average coverage of essential services based on tracer interventions that include reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health, infectious diseases, non-communicable diseases and service capacity and access, among the general and the most disadvantaged population)”
The SDG 3 indicator has ensured the quality of essential healthcare services for a hearing-impaired child.
I learned my letters and received various therapies to help communicate in a school in Dhaka which provides special care to the students like me They also provided training to my mother. By the age of 4, I had learned to speak a little. When they recommended me to a regular school, I was initially turned down because they were concerned my disability could prevent my talents from flourishing. But my mother’s pleading compelled them to reconsider.
Sustainable Development Goals 4
"Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all."
The impaired hearing affected my pronunciation and listening. When I failed to answer questions, teachers would rebuke me and even throw me out of the classroom at times. It was hurtful and I can admit that I cried. These incidents are not something that I solely experienced. They happen to far too many people with disabilities.
If there was a representative or a spokesperson for disabled students on every school committee, this could be eradicated from our country.
Sustainable Development Goals 4a
“Build and upgrade education facilities that are child, disability and gender sensitive and provide safe, non-violent, inclusive and effective learning environments for all.”
If we can ensure the use of Bangla sign language for hearing-impaired students, and help able classmates assist the disabled students like me in the classroom, it could change many lives for the better throughout the country.
In life, obstacles have prevented me from taking part in sports. It only changed when my mother pleaded on my behalf, and I came first in a race, gradually beginning a trend towards my burgeoning talents in studies and extracurricular activities.
Even then, many students and parents struggled to accept that someone as disabled as me could fulfil their potential to excel at something if we were given the necessary support.
I did not have any friends at school. When I became the only student to pass the eighth-grade creative math exams, it only further ostracized me from the teachers and other students
I wanted to study science in ninth grade, but the teachers denied me the opportunity because I was disabled.
When I submitted my disability certificate along with my certificates as part of my application to get admitted in the college, an employee tore it to shreds and threw me out. This horrifying incident scarred me and prevented me from ever announcing my disability to any authority.
Only my consistent good grades for two years managed to earn a modicum of respect from my classmates and teachers. But so many of my family members and neighbours could not help but snidely remark that educating me was a waste of money.
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Sustainable Development Goals 4.5
"Ensure equal access to all levels of education and vocational training by 2030 and end gender inequality in education for vulnerable groups, including the vulnerable, ethnic groups and children living in vulnerable conditions."
Due to Covid-19, online Zoom classes currently have become one of the biggest obstacles to learning. Online classes lack proper facilities for people with hearing impairment. Moreover, others are not interested in using the Bangla sign language. It could be of great help to us if the authorities could use the Bangla sign language.
Sustainable Development Goals 5.2
"Eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation."
I was sexually harassed several times in third, seventh and ninth grade but no one came forward to protest or help. Like many other young women in Dhaka, I have also been harassed by boys on the streets from a very young age. On one hand, the police are seldom sympathetic towards the plights of disabled people like me. On the other, my family discouraged discussing these issues out of fear and stigma.
Compliance with the SDG 5.2 would eliminate negative attitudes towards people with disabilities that is pervasive in the private and public spheres.
There is no official data on how many disabled girls and women are victims on violence, much less how many times justice was delivered.
Currently, I work part-time and remain involved in various disabled persons’ organization to campaign for our rightful inclusion. Groups like Bangladesh Society for the Change and Advocacy Nexus (B-SCAN), Society of the Deaf and Sign Language Users (SDSL), and Protibondhi Nagorik Shangathaner Parishad have been a tremendous boon in my life, and have helped me contribute financially to my family.
Even though I suffer from a hearing impairment, I do not receive any disability cheques of any sort, even for a student. The red tape surrounding the Department of Social Services and my college’s resistance is an obstacle.
Just like jobs for disabled people, these applications too should be made available online.
I aspire to be a successful banker. Perhaps my career will be strewn with similar obstacles. Whether my dreams are fulfilled or not, my suggestion to eliminate this discrimination and inequality is to periodically conduct brief research on the status of students with disabilities in government databases.
It is important to increase representation of disabled people; especially women with disabilities in the decision-making committee to commit to the representation.
Sustainable Development Goals 10.2
“Promote universal social, economic and political inclusion. UN definition: By 2030, empower and promote the social, economic and political inclusion of all, irrespective of age, sex, disability, race, ethnicity, origin, religion or economic or other status.”
Despite the SDG slogan of “Leave no one behind,” throughout my life there have been countless attempts to hold me back, all the way back to my infancy, and only because my hearing was impaired. Only because of my mother’s indomitable will, I have overcome every obstacle placed before me.
But can every hearing-impaired woman, or every person with disabilities in this country overcome every obstacle placed by their families, society, and the state?
Who is going to hear our plea?
This article has been published under special arrangement as part of a partnership with Plan International Bangladesh