Dr. Alim Chandani: Freedom To Sign
“I was born deaf. My parents weren’t acquainted with sign language. So, they bought me hearing aids. But, learning to speak wasn’t easy. Growing up in the U.S., I had to practice for hours & hours. Even when I talked to normal people the question ‘Are they able to understand me?’ kept stressing me out.
Bridging the communication gap left me feeling isolated. I had a lot of imaginary friends. Because talking to my imaginary friends was way easier. But, things took a turn when I went to pursue my Ph.D. at Gallaudet University – the only Deaf Liberal Arts university in the world.
There, I met a lot of deaf people who were signers. It was my first encounter with sign language. I could get an interpreter whenever I wanted & they would do the talking. I could finally focus on expressing myself rather than worrying if the opposite person could comprehend & finally, I was also able to make real friends!
The transition from speech to sign was the best thing that could ever happen to me. I finally felt like myself. But, back in India, sign language wasn’t encouraged. It was assumed to militate one’s success in the ‘normal world’. So, when I moved back, I made it my purpose to advocate for the rights of the deaf.
I visited around 40 deaf schools & learned that the teachers wouldn’t use sign language. When enquired further they said ‘Neither do we know the language nor do we have the finances to learn it’.
So, I launched a website – Access Mantra (now supported by – Hear A Million project). The one-stop destination for finding interpreters, learning or teaching sign language, & providing job training for the deaf. It’s Google for the deaf.
At this time, I also came across a lot of exceptionally talented deaf artists. I then thought to myself ‘How can I yoke their talent & my purpose into one?’ So, I started Freedom to Sign as a clothing brand that could help us spread more awareness about sign language.
It’s ironic how a lot of people from the hearing community have volunteered during this pandemic to learn sign language & somehow the deaf children at schools are occluded.
Communication & languages are way beyond speaking & hearing. Then why should we be the only ones trying to fit in?
Indian Sign language is still not recognized as an official language. We as a community are still struggling to get recognized. We are the ones who can’t hear but you can. Yet, why are our grievances & struggles going unheard?”