The efforts of Devangi Dalal, the first Indian audiologist to receive the ‘Humanitarian Award,’ in reducing the challenges of hearing-impaired people

With more than 30 years of experience, Devangi Dalal, an audiologist and speech therapist, helps hearing-impaired people, especially children, mingle with society through education and technology. A recent conversation with her traces down her journey to the novel cause.

As the audiologist and speech therapist Devangi Dalal speaks of how the hearing-impaired people – who she trained – are working in better pay-off jobs being Engineers or interior designers, it fills her with a sense of pride. After all, she has devoted her entire life to hearing-impaired people’s well-being, especially children from underprivileged backgrounds.

Her determination to spread awareness about hearing impairment and how it can be tackled with the help of technology made her the first Indian audiologist to receive the ‘Humanitarian award’ from the American Academy of Audiology (AAA) in 2012. Dalal is also the hearing health advocate for the Coalition for Global Hearing Health (CGHH), which works with the World Health Organisation (WHO) to promote public awareness of hearing health.

A destined beginning

Belonging to a family involved in farming, Dalal always aspired to make her career in the medical field. However, she got admission in her desired course, but not in Mumbai. She was not ready to leave her parents for studies and hence, opted for a Bachelor of Science in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology from T. N. Medical College & BYL Nair Ch. Hospital. Looking back, Dalal says, people were unaware of such a study in 1988, so she took it as a challenge.

The decision turned out to be a turning point for Dalal. After graduating in 1991, she worked for deaf and hard-of-hearing children with ENT surgeons Dr. Jayant Gandhi and Dr. Prabha Unadkat in the company of whom Dalal understood the challenges of such children and found herself tempted to work for their betterment.

After thorough research, she came up with ‘Speech N Sound Concepts’ in 1998, a clinic aimed at helping hearing-impaired people with medical facilities. However, as time passed, Dalal’s further research and understanding of the problems of the deaf people led her to initiate an NGO named ‘JOSH Foundation’ along with Dr. Jayant Gandhi in 2004.

“Hearing-impaired no longer a handicapped.”

Until now, Dalal understood that hearing impaired children often get sidelined in society among the “normal” people. She decided to help the children with audio and speech therapies to reduce the differences. “We have a general tendency to talk to the hearing impaired people in sign languages which prevents them from learning. Instead, it is important to talk to them in a common way to help them learn,” Dalal says, adding that the same is one of the works carried out in the NGO.

Devangi Dalal addressing students

Since the opening of the NGO, Dalal has been visiting the schools of specially-abled kids and meeting hearing-impaired children to understand their needs and requirements. Accordingly, the kids are made to take a hearing test, followed by the measurements so that an accurate digital hearing aid can be provided to them.

The team has been able to distribute more than 1,300 pairs of digital hearing aids to hearing-impaired children who hail from underprivileged backgrounds. Dalal and Dr. Gandhi have also been able to provide hearing aids to the children of 14 schools, as a result of which, 100% of the kids have their digital hearing aids. “If we remove the impairment, these children are as normal as others, and the hearing impaired are no longer handicapped. And, it is possible through such aids,” Dalal says.

Not only does Dalal help facilitate the hearing aids to the children, but she also puts effort into rehabilitating them. She often commonly talks to children to help them learn the language. Moreover, she does not forget to converse with the parents of these children and help them understand that they have a “challenged kid” and need the parent’s attention the most. “When I come across the parents of these children, who are devoting their lives to help their children, it motivates me to the core,” says the 51-year-old.

Dalal says it is rare to encounter a mishap like suicide among disabled people. “The specially-abled people are never demotivated about their life despite various problems since childhood. On the other hand, we fail to appreciate the small yet important things in life. We certainly should take inspiration from these people,” Dalal says. Her ‘Hearing Heart’ clinic in Mumbai also advocates the same to those who arrive with their life problems.

Applauded for the speech

Receiving the ‘Humanitarian Award’ by AAA was an excellent achievement for Dalal and a true recognition of her efforts. When she recounts the time, a memory of her speech emerges in her mind. It was the first time an audiologist from India talked of the importance of technology being used to remove a disability in a developing nation.

“Developed countries have many such technical equipments to deal with the impairment, unlike the growing counties that do not provide much attention to such disabilities. Voicing such concern through the speech brought me great applause from the people,” Dalal says, adding that with the award came responsibility on her shoulder to reduce the challenges of hearing impairment in India.

Along with running the NGO and the clinics, Devangi Dalal has organized various learning and fun workshops for underprivileged kids. On the other hand, she has authored two books tracing the challenges of the hearing-impaired people with the names “Chalo Badhirone Sambhalta Kariye” in Gujarati and “Kuch Suna Aapne” in Hindi. During the pandemic, she also wrote a book titled “Spreading Positivity,” covering her experiences with hearing-impaired children and how they motivated her.

Importance of awareness

“From amongst the 130 million population of India, 6.3 million are hearing impaired. Out of this, 60% are adults, and 40% are children, which is a big number. Another concern is that only 10% of the total children go to schools which have increased up to 15% in the last few years,” Dalal says, talking about the current number of Indian kids with hearing difficulties, according to her research.

Further, she states that it is through technological help that hearing challenges can be met. “It is essential to spread awareness about the hearing-impaired children, their challenges, and the available solutions. Many Indian families are unaware of the scientific developments that hinder the growth of their children with such difficulties,” she adds.

Currently, Dalal is working towards making the hearing tests a legal mandate in the hospitals right after the birth of a child so that the situation can be tackled in time. Meanwhile, she is also focused on voicing the importance of the legal provision through her columns in a Gujarati regional newspaper. “I often receive calls from people who like my columns which signifies that the voice is being heard and supposedly, it will bring a change very soon,” Devangi Dalal says, ending the conversation on a positive note.

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