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Meet the girl who broke sound barrier

- Born to hearing impaired parents, Alka fights to help people with similar handicap

Bhubaneswar, Dec. 3: She learnt the tricks of her trade at home and is now streaking past the sounds of silence to achieve a long cherished dream thought impossible by many.

Meet Alka Joshi, a 19-year-old sign language interpreter who is replacing voices with gestures and making a difference in the lives of the hearing and speech-impaired. Born to hearing impaired parents, Alka was always determined as a child to become the voice of her parents and several others with a similar handicap.

“I spent a large part of my childhood at my grandparents’ place and they taught me my first words. When I turned six or seven, I started staying with my parents and discovered I had a huge communication gap with them,” said Alka, who is pursuing her graduation studies in sociology at Ramadevi Women’s College.

She said the silence at home prompted her to spend as much time as possible with her parents and familiarise herself with signs and interpretation techniques. Her father, Sripathy Narayan Joshi, and mother, Meenakshi Mishra, are both working at the government architectural firm, Nirman Soudh.

“As I started speaking in the language of silence and began communicating comfortably with my parents, I thought of using this skill to help other people with hearing and speech impairment,” the teenager said.

One of the very few sign language interpreters in the state, Alka was barely 15 when she started volunteering for various social organisations in the state and outside as well. “The first time I interpreted was at a conference for the hearing impaired in Bhubaneswar and I realised that there were so many people who needed me. At that moment, I made up my mind to take it up as a career,” she said.

She then enrolled herself for an A-level course in Indian sign language at the Ali Yavar Jung National Institute for the Hearing Handicapped at Janla on the outskirts of the city. At present, she is working as a full-time interpreter for the state commissioner for persons with disabilities.

“I work twice a week and am paid Rs 300 per day. I want to continue with this as a full-time profession because no other job will ever be as satisfying as this,” she said, adding that she has also been volunteering for the Odisha Association for Deaf and several other non-governmental organisations.

Besides her invaluable contribution to the hearing and speech impaired, this young crusader has now realised her parents’ dreams by setting up a school for the doubly disadvantaged kids. “My parents, after their retirement, wanted to open a school for poor children who suffer from various disabilities. I have decided to fulfil their aspiration. At present, I have just three students, one of whom is mentally challenged,” she said. The two others are speech and hearing impaired.

Alka has also roped in a speech therapist to help her students but rues the lack of support from the government and people in general. “I am trying to manage with whatever money I earn through interpreting at various events but if I had more funds, I could reach out to many more underprivileged children,” she said.