Spunk Is Shrutilata Singh’s Second Name

Consider this: 95 per cent of what we learn is through our eyes and ears. Can you imagine the challenges faced by those who are deafblind, that is, they have both sight and hearing loss?

Shrutilata Singh has been having progressive deafblindness since childhood. Yet the spunky 30-year-old has not let this deter her from finding meaning in life.

Shruti is the first deafblind person in the country to graduate and work as a physiotherapist. She has worked as a physiotherapist at early intervention centres helping children who have special needs.

Hellen Keller, who was deafblind, has described the childhood experience as “being at sea in a dense fog”. According to a 2019 research paper published in the journal ‘Indian Pediatrics’, it is estimated that there are more than 500,000 deafblind adults and children in India.

Triumph of the spirit

Shruti was keen on becoming a physiotherapist and enrolled in a diploma course at the Blind People’s Association (BPA), Ahmedabad, the largest NGO in the country in the disability sector. Getting admission in a physiotherapy course was not easy for a deafblind person. Also, it was her willpower that enabled her to complete the rigorous four-year course in 2015. It helped that she had studied science in class 12.

While she was not able to hear the lectures, she would read transcripts on the screen of her mobile phone. She discussed subjects with other students using sign and tactile language.

Another challenge arose when she started working as a paediatric physiotherapist in an early intervention centre. “Some parents were shocked. A few even refused to allow me to touch their kids. But my skills convinced them that I was up to the mark,” Shruti said in earlier interview.

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Today, nine years later, Shruti works for Sense International India in Ahmedabad as a senior specialist, network support. “Communication and information sharing is crucial. I am glad I am involved in providing exposure and opportunities for persons with deafblindness,” she says.

Shruti uses technology extensively to enable her to communicate with non-disabled people and to access material.

“At present, my visual impairment is 95 per cent. I can see less than 5 per cent of what is around me. I can read, but very slowly. I can hear noises and music. But I cannot make out the words when people speak or the lyrics of songs. I need an interpreter to communicate,” says Shruti.

Childhood struggles

Shruti’s family is from Jharkhand but her parents settled in Gujarat when she was one year old. Much to the dismay of her family, her vision problems started when she was six and hearing issues showed up when she was nine years old. Since she was not born deaflind, she knows what it means to see and hear.

The doctor told her parents that the deafblindness was because of genetic mutation but the cause of the mutation was not clear.

“I went to a mainstream English medium school till class 12. From class 4, I was unable to read the blackboard or hear what the teacher was saying. It was a huge challenge. I would go near the blackboard and copy what the teacher had written. Some teachers did not like this,” relates Shruti.

She credits her mother, who is a doctor, for motivating her. “My mother was very strict with me about education. She always urged me to achieve my best. I took up science in class 12. The practical’s part proved to be a problem,” says Shruti.

Apart from difficulties in communication, Shruti’s socialisation skills could not develop in school due to her disability. Children refused to sit next to her. She faced a great deal of isolation. “My cousin sister would explain what was happening in the school. I missed a lot of normal school life. I never had social outings with friends, for instance,” she adds.

Cheerful personality

Despite all this, her mother says Shruti has always been very cheerful. She was a bookworm in her growing years and would read using a magnifier. She enjoyed cycling before it became too dangerous for her, her mother has said in an earlier interview.

Shruti did a BA in English Majors from IGNOU. She then took up physiotherapy at BPA. Life looked up during her association with BPA. “When I came to Ahmedabad and joined BPA it was the first time I had lived away from family. Yet, I felt at home. I could communicate with people with different types of disabilities,” says Shruti.

BPA provided her with an interpreter from whom she has learnt tactile and sign language. She also started learning braille.  Classmates helped her by writing notes and so did teachers. She also learnt different ways of getting assistance in education. For instance, use of magnification facility in exams. Her social life also improved. She was made to feel included. She would join others for plays and movies.

Advocacy work

Shruti’s work at Sense International India, which she joined in April 2020, involves advocating for the deafblind in various ways. She has presented papers at national and international conferences and made presentations on a variety of topics.

She has participated and contributed as a speaker at Global Disability Summit (GDS) and United Nations Girls Education Initiative (UNGEI).

At the International Purple Festival held in Goa in January 2024, Shruti was the ambassador for deafblindness. The festival is a time for celebration and empowerment for Persons with Disabilities (PwDs).

Tale of positivity    

Shruti has been living in Ahmedabad for the past ten years. “Being a girl and deafblind, there are safety issues. I live in an apartment with two friends. I have got used to managing on my own. Only when we get exposure do we learn to be independent,” she asserts.

“I am lazy about cooking but I help my flatmates with preparatory work. I make masala oats and khichdi well (with a laugh). I text my sister when I have doubts and am unable to understand something. I feel so comfortable in the office, I spend a great deal of time at work. I have good friends now, including virtual ones on social media,” says Shruti.

“The more I interact with others facing challenges the more inspired I get. Everyone has a unique challenge and a unique way of handling it. I draw inspiration from everyone in my life. What gives me the greatest joy is to ‘sense’ the happiness of someone I have helped,” say the gritty youngster with a smile.

 

 

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About the Author

Aruna Raghuram

I am a freelance journalist and write on parenting, personalities, women’s issues, environment, and other social causes. read more...

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