KATHMANDU: A few months ago some hearing- and speech-impaired people were watching a cultural dance programme, while one of them was communicating with his friend in a video chat via sign language and was also showing the ongoing performances to him (friend) through the chat. An interpreter, who sat between these two rows in the hall, was informing the hearing-and speech-impaired audience about the dance, the music and lyrics.
Many people were curious, as was this journalist. On asking them one came to know this was the blessing of something called 3G SIM card.
Ram Kushal Pant, 44, was born deaf in Gorkha. However, when Nepal Telecom started providing 3G services in Nepal, people like Pant’s life changed.
“When Nepal Telecom started 3G services a few years ago, it was very helpful for us. We could video chat with friends and family members in sign language. But the drawback was that using the SIM was expensive. It cost around Rs 3-4 per minute. So, we talked with Nepal Telecom and the Ministry of Information and Technology. They made provisions for a separate 3G SIM cards for the deaf. Now text message costs us 20 paisa, and video calls are at Rs 1.25 per minute,” says Pant who is the President of the National Federation of the Deaf Nepal (NDFN). His spouse Sangita Pant was also born deaf. They have an 11-year-old son and three-year-old daughter.
The SIM card has changed his life. “Earlier it was difficult for me to communicate with other people, including my wife. Without an interpreter I could not communicate when I was outside. I was lost in myself, felt bored and also went home late. Now I go to home early. I video chat with my wife, and with my children on Messenger and WhatsApp for conversation,” Pant informs.
Pant studied in the school for the deaf at Naxal and learned to speak the sign language. He had come to the interview with interpreter Niketan Shrestha.
As per Pant, at least 2,000 deaf people are using 3G service in Nepal. “If a mobile phone has video call facility and 3G SIM card and the hearing-impaired knows sign language, then they can easily communicate via 3G service,”
Connecting on Facebook
When visually-impaired Om Prakash Banjade asks the Facebook account of acquaintances to keep in touch, people are filled with curiosity. He uses Facebook to communicate and keep in touch with friends, like other people.
He says that Facebook is more user-friendly than other apps. “In Android cell phones, there is a ‘Talk Back’ option which is very helpful in using Facebook. It has a screen reader software and it reads everything like who and how many people are online, what they have posted as status, what photo and how many people are there in the photo that they have shared.”
He became a Facebook member in 2012 but started using it regularly a year later.
He shares, “Due to this social platform, I got to know many hearing-impaired people and their in-depth knowledge on different issues. Earlier communication between us (visually-impaired and deaf) was difficult as there was no common medium through which we could talk to one another. The deaf cannot hear the visually-impaired talking, and the latter cannot see the deaf using sign language. With the ‘Talk Back’ option, we can now can easily communicate via Facebook Messenger.”
Being a member of different organisations working for differently-abled people, Banjade says, “It has become easy to disseminate messages via this platform. And we don’t make language mistakes too as it reads whatever we write. It also saves time.”
And people around him become curious too. “A few days ago I was using Facebook on a public transportation, and the person sitting beside me became my friend on Facebook (grins). The conductor of that vehicle also got curious when he saw me using Facebook.”
Banjade lost his vision due to a problem in the optic nerve when he was studying in Class VI. He is a teacher at Padmodaya Higher Secondary School and a social activist.
Story of dreamer
Thirty-eight-year old Manoj Gohiwar’s left leg was affected by polio. But he has been riding a bike for the last 15 years. Hailing from Siraha, five feet two inches tall Gohiwar rides Hero Honda Sleek and Karizma bikes smoothly.
“When I was in Class X, I saw friends riding a bike and wanted to do so too. I told my friends about my wish, they didn’t support me because of my leg fearing that I might get in an accident.”
But Gohiwar did not give up and “forced them to at least tell me how to operate one”.
“I studied the system of bikes thoroughly. I went to a garage and asked mechanics about the vital tools of a bike. After two months of studying, I dreamt that I was riding a bike but got in an accident; but the next day I again dreamt I was riding a bike on the East-West Highway. Then I went to garage, asked for a bike, and gave money to a mechanic there (for repairs) in case I got in an accident. He didn’t agree but when I assured him that if I met with an accident it wouldn’t be his fault, he agreed. I rode the bike in Siraha bazaar for almost 30 minutes. When I returned, the mechanics didn’t believe me,” he says.
Gohiwar works in an international non-government organisation and has a wife two daughters.
Banjade says, “Compared to the visually-impaired people living in Capital, those living far from the Capital are deprived of using social networking sites. They don’t know how to use Facebook or other social media, and also have no idea that Android cell phones have such a facility for visually-impaired. On the contrary, the new generation of Capital can even use Viber and Skype perfectly despite being visually-impaired.”
When Pant visited Turkey and Thailand, he saw huge projectors kept in different parts of the city — to disseminate emergency information, and to help deaf people.
How did this system operate?
Pant reveals, “Whenever we would call them (the service provider), a person would appear on the screen and provide the information in sign language — such an interpretation service is available 24 hours.”
Had there been such service in Nepal, it would be easier for us during the time of disasters like earthquake, he says. “As there was no one to interpret for us about quake-related information, we could not get the right information on right time during April 2015 earthquake,” Pant complains.
Only 15 interpreters across Nepal are skilled interpreters of the sign language as per him. “But the government data shows that there are around 1,500 interpreters of the sign language in Nepal — however they are not as skilled as those 15 interpreters. As a result, they are not able to put across our words as competently. In the absence of qualified interpreters, we are not able to communicate with other people properly.”
Right to drive: Justified?
Gohiwar says he is facing another kind of discrimination. “I went for a bike trial and passed too in Siraha, but the Department of Transport Management didn’t give me a driving licence because of my disability due to polio. But I strongly believe that the State can’t dictate to me that I should ride two wheels or four wheels.”
He has been stopped by the Traffic Police many times who ask for his licence. “I always tell them I do not have a licence though I passed the trials. They suggest that I drive a four-wheel bike, but I am a job holder and staying in a rented house.
I own a bike because I cannot afford a parking space. I have to go on frequent field trips, and in Kathmandu, do you think I can get easily a parking space?”
“Probably, I’m the first person in Nepal with polio who is riding a bike. My other friends with polio ask me sometimes if they should also try to ride a bike. But due licence problems they are riding four-wheel bike,” he adds.
Is he not endangering himself and others with this move of his? But Gohiwar says he is very careful. “When I ride a bike, I concentrate on it fully. I don’t talk on the cell phone and looking here and there while riding it.”
A version of this article appears in print on June 25, 2017 of The Himalayan Times.