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Interview with Madan Vasishta

Madan M. Vasishta was born in India and became deaf at the age of 11. He worked as a farmer for next 10 years and moved to Delhi in 1961 where he met deaf people and learned to sign. Vasishta taught photography in India and worked with the All India Federation of the Deaf before coming to Gallaudet in 1967. He got his three degrees from Gallaudet and later worked as a teacher, researcher and administrator in various schools for the deaf. Vasishta retired from New Mexico School for the Deaf as its superintendent in 2000.

He has authored five books, scores of articles and book chapters and has made presentation nationally and internationally.

At present, Vasishta divides his time between teaching at Gallaudet and working on various deafness-related projects in India. He is working as the Chief Advisor of Indian Sign Language Research and Training Centre in New Delhi.

Interview, editing, transcription and translation provided by Sarika Mehta

Subject(s): Madan Vasishta
Type: Oral History
Language: American Sign Language (ASL)
Creator: Sarika Mehta
Location: Washington, DC

Well, a big problem right now that I see [in India] is attitude. They think that Deaf people can’t do anything. The attitude is, “Fine, give them food, shelter, it’s taken care of.” The charity model of working with deaf people. They don’t know about Deaf education. They don’t know Deaf people can do anything. Once that attitude begins to change, then other changes will surely happen through TV, newspapers, media – that will start the change. It’s a long process. This attitude will not change in one day, it will take years and years. At the same time, we need to develop parallel programs in order to change these attitudes. In turn they will see successful Deaf people. They won’t just say, “Deaf people can,” but have evidence. It gives proof – Deaf people with master’s degrees, Deaf doctors, all kinds of accolades. That will change these attitudes in the same way these mentalities changed in the US. After seeing Deaf people succeed professionally, but not until then.

Fifty years ago, Americans had the same attitudes that we see in India. Gallaudet has been established for 150 years. Now Americans see Deaf people with college degrees, opportunities and things are changing. India doesn’t have that historical background, so it’s harder to change attitudes there. The work is very different from Gallaudet. Gallaudet already had everything set up in place. India is pioneering the work, starting from scratch, establishing programs to change people’s attitudes.

Even at IGNOU, people involved in the program see sign language and wonder what it is. It’s hard for them to accept the fact that Deaf people can do something here. They look at me and wonder how I can have such a high position. For example, I require that all hired professors at the The Center should already know sign language. But everyone else felt that wasn’t necessary, we could just hire an interpreter. They felt the priority was having a high level of education, not sign language. They still look down upon sign language as being lower class. The challenge is this idea of accepting sign language as a real language.

My book has documented research that Indian Sign Language is a real language according to its history, grammatical structure. I published this volume for the government to follow in making ISL considered one of the official languages. I must emphasize that is one change of many that needs to take place that require people with a high level of education to recognize and value how to work well with me. I’m excited about these projects. Oh sure, it’s frustrating, but at the same time we need to celebrate the small things and be inspired.

Donor: Sarika Mehta
Item History: 2013-07-09 (created); 2016-08-16 (modified)

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