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Teaching deaf children bits of programming

Today, WHO (yes, that WHO that keeps us up to date with Covid-19 too.. or at least they try) celebrates the day as World Hearing Day. And their projection, that 1 in 4 people will have hearing problems by 2050, made me write this article. It reminded me of one project, in which I volunteered as a mentor and I was teaching basic programming to kids from Liceul Pentru Deficienți de Auz (Deaf Children School).

The project was called “Educate to have a voice” and was organized by Cartea Daliei/Dalia’s Book. I volunteered first time with Cartea Daliei in some sessions done with local schools. a couple of hours a day while the kids had a …” different school” week. Romanian Education system has two such weeks in the curriculum in which students are encouraged to experiment with different activities than the regular classes. You can read more about that experience in a previous post wrote 5 years ago.

When they mentioned this new opportunity I said to step in and help again. I did not know much about the conditions of such schools, they don’t get on mainstream media at the beginning of the school year. And no one in my close proximity went or knew someone that attended such school. So I was definitely curious to learn more while I do my part to give back to the community. It implied a 1h commitment per week to go to the school with a few other volunteers. We already had the lessons planned, so that was a big plus. Each week we would choose the main speaker to present the goals of that lesson and the rest would help the kids build their project, discover elements and instructions, giving them hints or feedback. Basically teaching them to build projects in Scratch with the visual pseudo-code instruction blocks. But oh, my… little did I know how many things they will teach me in return.

I’ve learned that life is not easy with them. Not at least in Romania. And this is not a post about poor Romania, an equal ex-socialist country, that lives with a Communist past o1n its shoulders. It is about the lack of empathy from the community. And it missing involvement in creating fair and equal chances. We might have one of the fastest internet speed but for sure we are among the slowest in understand the consequences of our indifference.

I’ve discovered that some kids could hear with some of the ear devices, poorly but still manageable. Most of them could read on lips. And at least those at school do know the Sign Language — which is not the case for the majority of the deaf people in Romania. The thing that impressed me the most was their desire to do stuff — either the programming classes or right after finishing them, playing a game online. Their thirst for using the computer was a real thing. Probably worth mentioning that a such school included kids living there most time. Some even go back home only in the big summer vacation. Those are mostly the case when the kid has parents that hear and they are overwhelmed with the situation.

That made me extremely sad. I realized that besides not having the same opportunities as other children from start, they are also away from their family most times. The funniest part was always the part to get their attention — you had to be in their visual field or.. use the lights. Some disco lights ( joking, a light bulb on-off switch) were doing the trick.

So today, I looked back on how that impacted me and I want to share some solutions I’ve put in place to be more considerate in this topic. Specially now for this #workfromhome, online period.

  • Captions — use programs that have live captions included. For meetings, you can use Meet and for presenting at conferences, events, etc — Google Slides. . . At first use, they might not be a great experience — but they are definitely better than nothing. And, while the mistakes will bring some smiles to the audience, at least the main idea will be understood. Also, from what I was told, the real captions get better with your practice, meaning the more you use them while you speak, the better they are. Yes, I know they might not be the best, and also Google will steal some of your data, but till now, I only used these ones. Please do share other solutions in the comments below — I will love to explore more tools.

  • Sign language — learn a few words. I promise they are not hard and a friend told me that you might even lose more calories while speaking. You probably know to say thank you in more than one language, check it out in sign languages. yes, it is a simple gesture from your chin outwards? Yes, simple as that. Try it!

  • Apps — Have an app at hand for signs. I bet you use translate while traveling or reading something online. Why not have a sign language app up? Check this one for the Romanian language. Thanks, Melania for the suggestion here.

  • Text. text. text — use alternative text for discussions. include details etc. Sorry clubhouse fans, we need some upgrades on this side.

  • Reactions c them. Changes are that you already clapped in silence at an event or in meetings by rotating waving open hands. Not the best description, I know.

  • Be patient — Give them a fair opportunity to express their opinions and desires. While you might want to help them, many times, our wish to help becomes a savior feeling. Such a situation will give us a false belief that we know better what they can do or want. And because of that, we will give them limited options. Let them choose. Wait for them to express their own opinion.

How many of you check stories without sound cause you can not use it in order not to disturb others? And mostly read such stories? Yes, I see you all those waiting in a queue for a to go on your phones. And text added on videos helps you too.

And yes, it all resumes in few words in doing your part. When you create something — in all parts of a project be sure to include them. For products or content online with voice, you can always choose to add subtitles/ text. And as always such improvements are helpful for others too.

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