Triumphing Over the Odds
When I was born, my dad refused to come and see me in the hospital. My mom cried thinking that my dad would hate her for giving birth to another deaf girl and I for being hearing impaired. It was my aunt who told them, ‘Your little daughter will surely be a future support to the family.’ While my mother believed her immediately, it took my father three more months to start seeing me and touching me. This gave my mom a lot of happiness.
Both my parents were very worried about me as my elder sister and younger brother were also hearing impaired. My mom was always troubled by the fact that she had three hearing impaired children. When my younger brother was born with deafness, my parents were worried but thought that a boy’s future is brighter than girls, and that he would be more useful for the family. But my mom was still strong enough and did everything possible to ensure the normal development of all her children. She helped me improve and dream…
My mother got us admitted to Little Flower Convent high school, while continuing to take us to the central hospital for tests and measures to improve our hearing. However, for both my elder sister and me, such actions did not help. My mother used to think that god had given her patience to deal with the situation. When I was 3 years old, I joined school but was struck for speech. The teachers refused to believe that I couldn’t speak and I kept thinking how I could improve.
As the teachers used to force me to speak and I could not speak clearly in a loud voice, I would go to sleep in class. One day while I was sleeping, the teacher got very angry and punished me by pulling the chair away. My mom felt very sad and requested another teacher not to punish me inside the class. This other teacher hoped that both my sister and I would surely improve in future. I was known in the class as a very naughty girl and was punished often. My mom used to worry whether the three deaf children would ever improve. She had to manage all alone with us, take us to and from school, and work at home. Since the teachers in the school knew the story of my mom, they, too, helped us a lot.
From the first to the sixth standard, I remained naughty but managed with my studies somehow, with help at home and from my teachers. I shared my doubts with them by asking questions. It was only after the eighth standard that I started understanding well in class, and I started securing higher marks. It proved all the more challenging for me as my elder sister got high marks and stood first from our school in the board exam. My mom thought that Ragavi must also follow her sister and do well in exams. I had to concentrate harder on my studies. After the ninth standard, my science and mathematics teacher started devoting more time to teach me and I began liking those subjects. My mathematics teacher told the other students that Ragavi could get very high marks in the board exams. I studied hard for the board exams even though I had trouble in concentrating for some time. I got hundred (100) in mathematics and stood first. My mom and dad were very happy and proud of me.
Around this time, I started spending more time practicing volley ball. Although I did not know sign language at the time, our volley ball teacher recommended me for playing volley ball at the Tamil Nadu national level. I won a prize at that tournament. While playing I saw many other deaf boys and girls from other states talking in sign language. I started learning sign language along with my speech. My mom was very happy for me as her little daughter was now travelling as a national player.
After getting first class marks in board exams, I wanted to join the science stream for plus two. I had to make a choice as I realized that being hearing impaired it would be difficult for me to follow the curriculum in science. I was feeling very bad about it but my headmaster made some concession for me. I was allowed to opt for mathematics and I took up business mathematics. I felt satisfied and thanked my headmaster for his support.
I passed my plus two board exams with high marks. I was good in sports. I also improved my communication skills in both oral and sign language. I wanted to learn English for one year after completing my board exam but it was not possible. Although I had good marks, I was not able to join any good college as my family was poor. I searched for different government colleges where fees would be low. This despite having high marks and my status as a national level volleyball player. Finally, I got admission into a college where the college principal congratulated me and gave me a lot of respect. I felt surprised at that time but I would never forget his gracious behavior.
I completed B.Com. from the government college for women in Chennai and was selected as a player in college at the district level. After college, while waiting for a job, I did a desktop publishing computer course. It took me a long time to get a job and my parents thought that I was unlucky. I used to feel sad while searching the newspaper for vacancies. Then I attended a job fair where I met Joseph sir and joined the v-shesh training in March 2011.
v-shesh assists students and job seekers that face barriers in accessing high quality education and suitable job opportunities, due to their disability, socio-economic status or by being from a non-metro location. I learnt a lot and developed my skills here. Since the staff also liked me very much, I started working as volunteer at the v-shesh office from April 2011. I would like to be a trainer and support candidates with advice about their careers. I got the opportunity to work here not because I am different but because I am equal to all other human beings. This is an excellent place to work and I am becoming smarter because of improvement in my English and life skill training, which has improved my communication a lot.
My family was a little doubtful about the employment at v-shesh and asked me not to join. For the first time, I did not take their advice, and I am proud I got a chance to work here. Now my dad is very happy and supports me to continue working as a trainer. I was also very touched when my manager picked me to go to Mumbai Deaf Expo 2012. For the first time, I travelled in an AC train and flight – that was unforgettable. I am very satisfied at present and give life a thumbs up. My family is proud of me as their little daughter has become independent and a valuable member in society.
I think of myself as a proud deaf woman. I am positive that I can do everything in the world!
[Ragavi is working with v-shesh, a skill development and counseling centre for persons with disabilities based in Chennai. Ragavi is v-shesh’s first deaf team member, and is involved with counseling and training v-shesh’s deaf trainees and building linkages with deaf organizations.]