"I want equality not only for myself but also for thousands of other specially-abled children who are not even able to raise their voices" - Nishtha Dudeja is an Indian model and the winner of the Miss Deaf Asia 2018 title

Achievers

"Just as India promotes and preserves our ancient Sanskrit language ... under the Indian Constitution, there is a need to incorporate ... Indian Sign Language (ISL) into the list of scheduled languages" - Vaibhav Kothari, a deaf and mute entrepreneur and founder of OMVAI

Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing People Who Changed the World

It can take hardship to notice inequalities in the world.

Many deaf and hard-of-hearing people are acutely aware of this. Experiencing discrimination and access challenges makes this clear to them. And caring about their rights, and the rights of others who face similar challenges, has motivated many deaf and hard-of-hearing people to fight for change.

Throughout history, people have done this in many different ways. Some explore activism or politics, others create art, and still others invent new ways of communicating. And many achieve great feats without a thought for their deafness or lack of hearing – It is not a meaningful part of the conversation for them. But the creativity and resilience of deaf and hard-of-hearing people is limitless.


Hellen Keller: Helen Keller was a remarkable American educator, disability activist and author. She is the most famous DeafBlind person in history.


Kitty O’Neil: Known as ‘the fastest woman in the world’, Kitty O’Neil was an American stuntwoman and speed racer, most famous in the 1970s.


Haben Girma: Haben Girma is an accomplished disability rights lawyer and the first DeafBlind person to graduate from Harvard Law School.


Chella Man: One of the most exciting young voices in the deaf and hard-of-hearing community today is 21-year-old Chella Man. A talented visual artist, actor, influencer and activist in both the deaf and LGBTQ+ communities, Chella Man has a strong internet presence and advocates regularly for deaf and disability rights.


Vint Cerf: Vint Cerf is known as one of the ‘fathers of the internet’. He is a mathematician and inventor who co-invented TCP/IP protocol with Robert E. Kahn in 1974, which paved the way for the invention of the internet we use today.


Derrick Coleman: Derrick Coleman is the first legally deaf offensive player in America’s National Football League (NFL).


Claudia L. Gordon: Claudia L. Gordon is an attorney and disability advocate. She is the first Deaf Black female attorney in the United States.


Casar Jacobson: Casar Jacobson is a Norwegian-Canadian diversity and Deaf activist and scientist. She was the first Deaf person in North America to earn a national pageant title.


Tamika Catchings: Basketball superstar Tamika Catchings had a stellar 15-year career from 2002 to 2016. She is a multiple award winner, including four Olympic Gold medals. She is also famous for recording the first ever quintuple-double (25 points, 18 rebounds, 11 assists, 10 steals and 10 blocks) in 1997.


Thomas Edison: Known by many as America’s greatest inventor, Thomas Edison spent much of his life with little to no hearing. Edison is famous for engineering world-changing devices including the light bulb, the phonograph (the first device to record and play back sound), and the microphone used in telephones.


Laurent Clerc: Louis Laurent Marie Clerc was a key figure in the development of American Sign Language and deaf education. He is considered the first ‘deaf teacher of the deaf’ in the United States and is sometimes known as ‘The Apostle of the Deaf in America’. With Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, he co-founded the first school for the deaf in North America.


Francisco Goya: Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes – better known as Fransisco Goya – was a Spanish romantic artist in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.


Hermon and Heroda Berhane: Lifestyle bloggers and influencers Herman and Heroda Berhane are deaf identical twins.


Clayton Valli: Deaf linguist and American Sign Language (ASL) poet Clayton Valli was the first person to identify ASL poetry as a literary genre. He also created unique and beautiful poetry with sign language.


Further reading:

Achievers in India

(in lexicographic order of first name)

Abhinaya is an Indian actress and model who mainly works in Tamil and Telugu films. She is both hearing and speech impaired. She made her acting debut in Naadodigal (2009) and then she has appeared in many Tamil and Telugu films.

The success of Naadodigal and critical acclaim for Abhinaya's performance led director Samuthirakani to cast her in the Telugu remake Shambo Shiva Shambo, while she was signed to play the same role in its Kannada remake Hudugaru as well. She won two Filmfare Awards for her performances in Naadodigal and Shambo Shiva Shambo the following year. She was cast in an important role in Easan (2010) directed by Sasikumar. In 2011, A. R. Murugadoss signed her to play a supporting role alongside Suriya in the film 7aam Arivu.

Year 2015 also saw her making her Bollywood debut in R. Balki's Shamitabh in a short role.

Among her upcoming films are Vizhithiru, in which she is playing a radio jockey, and Mela Thalam.

Gurugram resident Amita Dutta is an artist whose unique talent has been appreciated by art critics all over, Amita uses coffee as a medium for her paintings. She is a creator and force behind the label ARA, Art of Radiant Arabica, Arabica is a popular type of coffee.

Amita suffers from bilateral (in both ears) sensorineural hearing loss from birth, she studied up to class 9 but was unable to continue her schooling as the school could not provide a special educator for her and feared that she would fail and tarnish the passing record of the school.

Amita found help in Ms. Deep Dutta (Now her mother in law) who helped her finish her education by studying on her own through National Institute of Open Schooling and also encouraged her to join a 3 year course in Interior designing.

Amita stands tall today due to the support of Ms. Deep Dutta, her Mother in law who understood her plight as her son is also Hearing Impaired.

Both the ladies deserve praise for their progressive attitude.

Arwa, dedication and determination make her much bigger than a 16-year-old (in 2018). Arwa Imtiyaz Bhat from Srinagar has become the voice of Deaf badminton players under the J & K Sports Association for the Deaf.

Arwa’s father, Imtiyaz Ahmad Bhat is an autorickshaw driver and earns just about enough to maintain his family of five. Arwa’s mother Rehana is deaf and mute and so is her mother’s brother Mohammad Saleem, both her mother and her maternal uncle are excellent badminton players.

Arwa has seen them struggle, face communication challenges and lack of acceptance. Arwa decided to help everyone with Hearing and Speech Impairment. She learnt sign language from her uncle and took on the daunting role of an interpreter for the Deaf Badminton players.

Though her father can just about take care of the family with his meagre income, Arwa does not charge anyone nor does she expects to be paid, her satisfaction comes from seeing the joy on the faces of her players.

Arwa not only takes on the role of an interpreter but also takes the responsibility of being a guardian whenever the team travels for tournaments. Parents of other players trust her and are convinced that their children will be safe.

Her happiness at her team winning 4 Gold medals, 3 Silver medals and 2 Bronze medals at the National Games for the Deaf at Ranchi more than makes up for the lack of monetary compensation.

Arwa Imtiyaz Bhat’s determination to give a voice to the ambitions and aspirations of the Hearing and Speech-impaired sportsmen over her own ambitions is a great sacrifice. Arwa wants to become a Doctor, due to her father’s limited income and her irregular school attendance, her ambition will remain a distant dream. This saddens her but does not take away her dedication to promote the Speech and Hearing Impaired sportspersons of her state, after all Heroes are made of a different material.

Star shuttler and national level coach Mr. Gaurav Ahluwalia is an alum of AIDDS

Working with the United Shuttlers badminton academy and having played for the Ghaziabad Badminton club this talented player has made a mark for himself at the international stage and wishes to do more and more. He has fought through adversity throughout his career from tournaments missing his entry to encountering visa issues to enter the tournaments he has strived to succeed.

India has produced some of the world’s best shuttlers and away from the spotlight players that we usually follows lies some of our most talented badminton players. India’s speech and hearing impaired badminton star Gaurav Ahluwalia is a prime example of that.

The Story of a Silent Shuttler: Gaurav Ahluwalia, 2020

Malika Handa is a deaf Indian professional chess player and the first Indian woman to win a gold medal in the International Deaf Chess Championship and many 6 Medalist in World & Asian championship. Since the year 2012, she has won the National Chess Champions of the Deaf 7th times. Malika is National awardee (Best sportsperson). This championship is organized by the All India Sports Council of the Deaf.

Malika was born in Jalandhar, Punjab, to Suresh and Renu Handa. She was not born deaf but lost her hearing and speech when she was one year old. Now, she lives with a 90 per cent hearing disability. She was introduced to chess in 2010 by her father when he brought home a chessboard. She was still a student in school. Malika quickly developed an interest in this game. Her chess expertise helped her secure a seat in a mainstream college.

Malika began to play chess when she was 15 years. She developed a passion for the game and she soon began to outplay her peers. She has won the national deaf chess championship six times. She has faced a lot of problems in her professional life and the biggest problem of all was the lack of aid from government.

International medals

  • Silver - ICCD World Deaf Blitz Chess Championship (2018)[10]

  • Silver - Asian Chess Championship for Disabled (2017)

  • Gold - ICCD World Open Individual Deaf Chess Championship (2016)

  • Silver - ICCD 4th World Individual Blitz Deaf Championship (Ladies) (2016)

  • Gold - ICCD 3rd Asian Individual Chess Championship for Deaf (2015)

  • Silver - ICCD 1st Asian Open Deaf Chess Blitz Championship (2015)

National medals

  • Gold - 22nd National Chess Championship of the Deaf (2020)

  • Gold - 21st National Chess Championship of the Deaf (2018)

  • Gold - 20th National Chess Championship of the Deaf (2017)

  • Gold - 19th National Chess Championship of the Deaf (2017)

  • Gold - 18th National Chess Championship of the Deaf (2016)

  • Gold - 17th National Chess Championship of the Deaf (2013)

  • Gold - National Chess Championship of the Deaf (2012)

Mani Ram has fought for 15 years to get into the IAS. In 2005 when he cleared the UPSC exams for the 1st time, they turned him away saying he is completely deaf, and they only take partially deaf candidates.

But the man did not lose heart, he got a cochlear implant done and cleared the exam again. But this time they told him his hearing was too good for the disability category. But Maniram did not give up, after a few technical clarifications, he has finally made it to the IAS.

Niraj Mehta, a musician born in Ahmedabad, was born without external ears and was deaf at birth. Growing up, Niraj — grappling with 75% hearing loss — used people’s lip movements as visual cues to construct meaning. He could hear only extremely loud voices. While he inherited his father Suresh Mehta’s passion for listening to music and would hum songs, Niraj took up music formally only in 2016. “I would sing while strumming the guitar but could not achieve harmony between my playing and singing,” he said.

The life-changing moment for Niraj came in February 2019 when he underwent a bone conduction surgery — in which an implant is used to fire up the cochlea by conducting sound waves through skull bones. Finally, he could hear. “Until I underwent the surgery, I could not hear my own voice. Now, I can play the guitar as well as sing,” said Niraj, whose condition is called microtia, a congenital defect because of which external ears are underdeveloped.

In July 2019, Niraj performed at ‘Beats of Cochlea’, an international festival for musicians with hearing implants. He was India’s first representative at the event that was held in Warsaw, Poland.

At school, some classmates mocked his deformity. “I used to feel low but later realized that people will show respect if you are successful. If you are passionate about your pursuits, success always comes to you,” he said. Niraj graduated in international business from Brunel University of London in 2019 and is currently Marketing Director at Amster Microcell. “But perhaps music will shape my career,” he mused.

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Nishtha Dudeja state of Delhi at the AIDACS Miss and Mister Deaf India pageant in which she won. Dudeja is the first representative from India to win any title at Miss and Mister Deaf World pageant since its inception 18 years ago. Dudeja did internship at UNESCO in Delhi after her graduation where she handled social media and other assignments to publicize the activities undertaken by UNESCO. This stint taught her how to deal with the challenges faced by the disabled persons at the work place. She was later invited by UNESCO, Delhi as a guest of honor at the celebration of International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

Dudeja has been an international tennis player having represented India three times at International Games. She participated in Deaflympics – 2013 (Sofia, Bulgaria), World Deaf Tennis Championship – 2015 (Nottingham, UK) and Deaflympics – 2017 (Samsun, Turkey).

Rohit Bhaker was born profoundly deaf and he has the inability to speak.

He is from Bhiwani and is currently residing in Bhiwani for badminton practices and works in DHBVN. In 1997 for his achievement in his debut Deaflympics event (1997), he was awarded the National Child Award for Exceptional Achievement (Bal Shakti Puraskar).

He also received Arjuna Award for his efforts in the sport of badminton.

Rohit made his Deaflympic debut in the 1997 Summer Deaflympics at the age of just twelve and was a member of the Indian badminton team which won the gold medal in the mixed team event, which also featured Rajeev Bagga. This achievement made him the youngest male medalist at the Deaflympic history (12 years, 8 months and 17 days) and also became the youngest gold medalist in the history of Deaflympics. Rohit Bhaker too claimed bronze medals in the men's singles and mixed team events as a part of the 2005 Summer Deaflympics.

He is often compared to Rajeev Bagga, a fellow Indian deaf badminton player who has clinched 12 gold medals at the Deaflympics representing Britain.

India is an active members of the United Nations Volunteer Programme and regularly deputes volunteers as per the programme, more than 1800 Indian’s have worked under the United Nations in many Countries. Rupmani Chhetri has been India’s representative as International United Nations Volunteer - (Advocacy Specialist on Disability) from 20-Mar-2017 to 20-Mar-2018 at Kyiv, Ukraine. She is also an executive member of the National Association for the Deaf (NAD)

What makes Rupmani different from the other Indians who are also serving as Volunteers? Rupmani Chhetri is Hearing and Speech Impaired.

Born in Nepal, her parents moved to Darjeeling India, when she was 6 month’s old, her parents did not realize that she had a hearing loss, nor the teachers in her school realized her impairment. Her parents took her to priests and quacks to seek hearing loss treatment. Rupmani was the only child with a disability as her 2 younger siblings were normal. Her father stopped taking interest in her and refused to pay her school fees. She also worked as a manual labourer on daily wages. All this disgusted her and she found an escape in a Delhi based Hearing Impaired man. Rupmani thought that the man whom she married will understand her and she will not be discriminated against, unfortunately, the marriage did not work out and she went through very difficult times getting a divorce from him.

Rupmani feels that India has a long way to go and is lagging behind in being disable friendly. Her advice to the parents of the kids who are differently abled is “Just empower them and help them believe in themselves. There is no need for sympathy. They can achieve anything. Just remove the ‘im’ from impossible.”

Rupmani now is the Deaf Engagement & Marketing Manager at SignAble

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