Smriti Nagpal – Working for the hearing-impaired

INDIVsmritiDelhi-based Smriti Nagpal is the youngest among seven Indians on BBC’s 100 Inspirational Women in 2015 list. The list was announced recently with a statement saying, “Each year, BBC names 100 women — a mix of influential women who are world leaders in politics, science, entertainment as well as less popular, but inspirational women from all over the world.”

Ever since the recognition, the 25 year old has been showered with congratulatory messages and attended functions honouring her for her work with and for the hearing-impaired. Although, when approached by BBC for the ‘Under 30’ category, Nagpal says, she had not comprehended the magnitude of appreciation that would follow, she now finds herself in an enchanting space.

Nagpal says: “I had not set any agenda in life, but one after the other things have been happening and I have gone with the flow. Presently, I am ecstatic and my most delightful moment was when my father saw my photograph and a small write-up regarding the BBC list and hugged me saying he was so proud of me.”

Born into a family where both her elder siblings (a brother and a sister) were hearing-impaired, Nagpal learned sign language fairly young. From assisting the hearing-impaired in several ways to founding Atulyakala, a social enterprise that is empowering hearing-impaired artists through design partnerships and creative collaborations, she has become their voice.

How are your siblings reacting to the accolades coming your way?
We share a very close bond and they have both always pampered me as a child. [They are] obviously delighted that the work undertaken by their youngest sister has found recognition. They feel this initiative will motivate many others like me to work in this direction and at the same time will strive to make our society an inclusive one. I think learning the sign language, which started as the need of the family and was the only way of communicating with my brother and sister, has unconsciously led to a greater purpose in life for me and I would give all the credit for this to my family.

What would you call the turning point in your life?

I was 16, when I first interpreted officially for an organisation called the National Association of the Deaf (NAD). It was World Disability Day and I was on stage, without much knowledge. But the moment I stepped offstage, I saw few deaf people coming and thanking me. It took me a while to grasp why they were thanking me. The fact was that while for me it was just interpreting, for them it was the only source of understanding the voices around them. I came home and told my parents that I do not know what I will become in life, but sign language will certainly always be with me.

How did the job with India’s state-owned television network, Doordarshan, come about?

I was enrolled in Bachelor of Business Administration when I got a call from Doordarshan for an audition. They needed an interpreter of sign language for their news programme. Hired in no time, I became responsible for the Morning Bulletin [for the hearing-impaired]. I get up at five every morning to make it in time and even after five years, continue to do the bulletin.

What made you start a social enterprise at a young age?

One day I met an extremely talented artist who had a master’s degree in art, but was compelled to make ordinary handmade products for an NGO. The reality that I was fortunate enough to do whatever I wanted to do in life, also made me conscious of my responsibility towards society. On returning home, I researched and decided to work towards assisting the hearing-impaired artists. After consulting a friend, I gave an assignment to the artist. The result was stunning. I began meeting other such artists and realised that most of them suffered similar lack of opportunities. Together with a friend, at the age of 22, I launched Atulyakala, and the first person to join us was the same artist whose plight changed the entire thought process of my life.

How does Atulyakala help?

The social enterprise works with the hearing-impaired artists and functions at three levels so that the artists are exposed to newer ideas and concepts. First, the artists design artworks and products, which is sometimes done in collaboration with regular artists. These designs are then converted into products that are commercially manufactured. Second, the organisation works as a design studio, taking up design projects from clients for branding and similar purposes. Third, spreading awareness about sign language through various mediums including events, workshops and videos.

Moreover, unlike NGOs, where creativity and identity of the artist is kept in the background, at Atulyakala, the hearing-impaired artist signs each and every piece created by him or her. This helps in promoting and empowering the artist and not the brand name. Expanding the network, we have now collaborated with famous musicians and illustration artists, who will be creating works that will help in raising awareness about sign language.

Besides receiving a pat on the back by your father, which has been your most proud moment?
I was delighted when I got the opportunity to interpret the Republic Day Parade (January 26) this year in Indian sign language on national television for the country’s hearing-impaired community. This was the first such broadcast in 64 years.

What message would you like to pass to those with disabilities?

I personally feel there is no such word as disability. It’s only in our minds. Therefore, nothing should stop us from achieving what we are passionate about. It’s time we start embracing what we have and who we are. To the youth, I would like to say that I have always believed in dreams and trust me I take my dreams seriously. So, keep the life alive, keep dreaming and never let go the passion you have.

What are your future plans?

Seeing the endless potential in hearing-impaired people and especially after receiving tremendous response from all over for the work initiated by Atulyakala, I am motivated to work harder and take the organisation to higher levels. We are working on the expansion model and hopefully; we will have many more artists working with us soon. We intend to take our goals beyond any geographical limitations.

Quick facts

• India has the largest population of hearing-impaired people in the world.
• The figures could be over 18 million people.
• This means, out of every five people with hearing-impairments in the world, one lives in India.
• Despite the numbers, they face numerous problems, the foremost being lack of education.

Courtesy : Gulf News