Call for inclusion at school and work
DUBAI // Don’t shut us out, be our friend, is the message from deaf children and their parents who are advocating more inclusion and integration in schools and at work.
Young students have already taken the initiative in some cases.
When Mahnoor Dodhy, 8, signed to invite her grade 1 classmates to a recent open day at her speech therapy centre, her hearing friend Noora was quick to join in.
The girls ran on the lawn, petted animals and baked cookies at the Kalimati Communication and Rehabilitation Centre with Noora sometimes stepping in as Mahnoor’s unofficial interpreter.
Shy of signing to a stranger, Mahnoor was gently prodded by Noora to sign that they had enjoyed learning to make meatballs and also learnt math together in regular classes at the Al Mizhar American Academy.
“If more children like Noora learn to sign even simple words like, ‘please, thank you’ it will help girls like Mahnoor not feel like an outcast,” said her mother Kanza Dodhy.
The family realised Mahnoor required a cochlear implant at eight months when loud sounds did not disturb her.
Then began the struggle to find a place at a mainstream school since Mahnoor can sign, lip read and has a limited ability to speak. It took the Dodhy’s three years and applications to 50 schools in Dubai and Sharjah.
“If the school did not reject her outright, they said they were willing but could not accommodate her,” Ms Dodhy said. The family including Mahnoor’s younger brothers have learnt to sign.
“She lost two years but now she loves school, she is a visual learner. We are constantly working as parents so these children are included. A lot more education and information is needed in society. The attitude should never be - they cannot hear so let them be.”
For older children the isolation can be disheartening.
“I want more friends, more people to understand me, not feel I’m different,” said Omniah Amer, 16, who has profound hearing loss and speaks slowly drawing out her words.
“I like Math, sometimes science, I can lip read. But teacher walks around, writes on board, I should see her mouth, I cannot write words then.”
Her mother Eman Faisal said it was a challenge to find acceptance in the system.
“Teachers have a lot of work but there must be a change in attitude of students, teachers; it is a call for our whole society to pay attention to these children and accept them.”
Laws have been in place since 2009 to protect the rights of children with special needs. But it took campaigns by educators and parents on integration in public and private schools for deaf children to gain admission to some mainstream schools over the past three years.
Parents understand it will require consistent effort so inclusion is not perceived as forced but bridges are being built by the community.
“Change is happening, it may be gradual but we must strive to constantly move forward. We cannot always sugar-coat reality so maybe our children with hearing loss will have to learn that they have to work harder, it’s just as it is,” said Bedour Al Raqbani, director and founder of Kalimati.
She founded the centre, which means “my words” in Arabic in 2010 after being unable to find suitable facility for her daughter who was diagnosed with profound hearing loss at nine months old.
“When our children are out there in society, in mainstream schools, in jobs they are gaining empathy and understanding. We always brag about children learning other languages, so why not sign becoming one of the languages they learn? That will create a cohesive community where the deaf and the hearing live together in harmony.”
Updated: March 10, 2016 04:00 AM