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General Election 2024 and Inclusion of Deaf and Hard of Hearing 


As the 2024 general election in India approaches its conclusion, a notable omission during the Election Commission of India’s announcement in March was the lack of sign language interpreters in the televised and social media broadcast. This omission highlights the everyday exclusion faced by Deaf and Hard of Hearing (DHH) citizens in India.



  • Issues Related to Disability
  • Government Policies & Interventions

Mains Question:

Equity in education, health care, and rights in India cannot succeed unless the ableist barriers that exclude Deaf and Hard of Hearing citizens are removed. Analyse. (10 Marks, 150 Words).

Shortcomings in the Efforts Taken:

  • India’s efforts towards equity in education, healthcare, and rights must address and dismantle the ableist barriers that exclude DHH individuals.
  • For instance, the National Programme for Prevention and Control of Deafness aims to prevent and treat hearing impairment and provide medical rehabilitation, but it fails to address the quality of life for DHH people.
  • While it covers theoretical aspects of screening and hearing aid prescriptions, it neglects Indian Sign Language (ISL), a crucial communication tool for the deaf community. Although the ISL Research and Training Centre was established in 2015, ISL is still not officially recognized.
  • Despite the National Education Policy 2020 recommending standardized ISL teaching in schools, its implementation remains limited, even in schools for the deaf.

Sign Language versus Oralism:

  • The Indian education system predominantly emphasizes “oralism,” encouraging deaf individuals to use their voices and lip-read rather than using sign language.
  • Most educators in deaf schools are not trained in ISL, focusing instead on “rehabilitation” and expecting deaf individuals to adapt to their surroundings, rather than removing social barriers.
  • This approach has been criticized for fostering an isolating social structure for deaf people in an inherently ableist society.
  • In contrast, integrating sign language supports cognitive development in deaf children and prevents linguistic deprivation.
  • Over 70 countries legally recognize national sign languages, ensuring that education and essential information are accessible to deaf citizens.
  • The exclusion of the deaf in India underscores the pervasive ableism within the society.

Headcount in India:

  • The 2011 Census reported five million hearing-impaired people in India, but the National Association of the Deaf estimates this number to be 18 million, and the World Health Organization suggests nearly 63 million Indians have significant hearing impairment.
  • Despite these numbers, DHH individuals rarely experience inclusion in everyday life. Only 5% of deaf children attend school, often taking much longer to graduate due to an oralist curriculum.
  • Although there are government initiatives to employ the deaf, many still struggle to secure jobs. In 2020, protests erupted over recruitment policies favoring those with less than 40% hearing impairment.
  • Numerous petitions to recognize Indian Sign Language (ISL) have been rejected, with authorities claiming the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act (RPDA) 2016 is sufficient to preserve and advance the language. This persistent rejection highlights ongoing marginalization.

Challenges in Everyday Life:

  • For deaf people, everyday tasks become significant challenges due to a lack of accessibility. Public transport announcements, TV shows, public structure directions, and helpline calls are often inaccessible.
  • Simple daily activities, taken for granted by others, become battles won through years of litigation and advocacy.
  • Although Doordarshan introduced a weekly news segment in ISL in 1987, this precedent has not been adopted by private news channels.
  • While films, Indian Premier League 2024 cricket matches, and OTT shows have introduced accessible options, there is still much progress to be made.

Employment and Opportunities:

  • Opportunities for the deaf community are typically limited to roles such as housekeeping, waitstaff, and data entry operators.
  • The private sector has implemented accessibility and inclusion programs with captioning and interpreter services, but the government sector lags behind.
  • Numerous protests by the deaf community at state and national levels have been met with police force or unfulfilled promises. Despite the RPDA, policy changes are ineffective without proper implementation.

Healthcare Access:

  • The deaf community also faces significant challenges in accessing healthcare, as most hospitals in India lack interpreters.
  • This issue is even more severe for mental healthcare, as there is a shortage of trained language interpreters.
  • The Mental Healthcare Act of 2017 promises mental health care for all, but its implementation is poor, with only 250 certified sign language interpreters and no clear data on ISL-trained mental health professionals.

What Needs to Be Done:

  • The current situation requires a shift from ableism to accessibility. Official recognition of Indian Sign Language (ISL) is essential, and it should be integrated naturally into schools and colleges for both hearing and DHH students.
  • Teaching ISL should be a job opportunity for DHH individuals, enhancing their employment prospects. Additionally, the hearing population should practice ISL in daily interactions to achieve fluency.
  • Healthcare systems need updates to ensure easy and accessible communication for the deaf community at all levels. DHH patients benefit from care provided by language-concordant physicians.
  • However, current regulations by medical, dental, and nursing commissions present significant barriers to DHH individuals aspiring to enter healthcare professions.
  • Increasing inclusivity in the healthcare workforce would make it more diverse and mainstream the need for ISL interpreters.
  • Deaf programming should be standard across media channels. While English-language channels often have accessible subtitles, Hindi and other regional language channels lack ISL interpretation or subtitles. Government announcements should include live ISL interpreters, a practice common in several countries.


With timely interventions, real-time ISL interpretations might be mandated by the Election Commission of India (ECI) in future elections to ensure accessibility and inclusion. Hence, the issues discussed above are not exhaustive. Authorities should listen to and address the needs of the DHH community comprehensively.

June 2024