Deafblindness – a combination of vision and hearing loss – is a unique disability which creates its own challenges for communication, mobility and access to information. Many deafblind children develop additional physical, sensory and learning difficulties. In developing countries, the lack of adequate support services means these challenges are even more acute.
In India, it is estimated that there are almost 500,000 deafblind people, many of whom face a lifetime of isolation and exclusion.
Sense India is the only organisation in the country developing services for deafblind and multi-sensory impaired children and adults. Established in 1997, it aims to ensure that all deafblind people have access to education, advice and support, so they can become full and active members of society.
Sense India believes that no deafblind child should have to travel more than a day to get access to appropriate services. This is why its communication, mobility, literacy and vocational skills programmes are either delivered at home, in the community or in day care centres through local partners. The organisation is flexible enough to adapt to individual and family circumstances, which means each child has a personal education plan.
Sense India is also working hard to increase the number of properly qualified teachers. In addition to regular training workshops, it has started a specialist teacher training course on deafblindness, the first of its kind in South Asia. More than 2,000 education professionals have already attended the programme. These teachers go on to act as mentors for community-based rehabilitation workers, who also benefit from the regional learning centres run by the organisation.
Sense India is actively lobbying to have deafblindness included in state disability policies across India. It has worked with the Ministry of Human Resource Development to include the education of deafblind children in an ‘Education for All’ scheme, and has encouraged the development of advocacy networks of families, teachers and deafblind people across the country.
Sense India works with more than 25,000 deafblind people and their families, through a network of partners across many states in India. It aims to have at least one service in each state of India by 2017, which means it will provide quality services to approximately 70,000 deafblind adults and children.
More than half of the Impact Award funding was invested in a reserve fund for financial security and sustainability of the organisation. So far, the returns on the investment have supported the salaries of two Community Based Workers and helped to provide services to 15 deafblind children. Additional funds have gone towards staff salaries, particularly crucial to retain staff during the financial crisis.
In addition to this, funding has been used to organise deafblind awareness visits where 21 small disability NGOs were able to visit other NGOs working with deafblind children to learn from their experiences. Sense also set up a mentoring programme where 10 senior professionals mentored 16 partner organisations and strengthened their capacity to work with deafblind people. Educators have also been trained by deafblind experts in identification, functional assessment, education planning and evaluation.
Sense also invested in its Direct Marketing Programme, which led to the creation of an active donor database of thousands of people. The organisation has also set up a fundraising team that beat its fundraising target by almost 40% in 2013.
Photos: Andy Aitchison