- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
 November 14 , 2003 

Sounds of Improvement: Havat steps in to help hearing-speaking impaired

Shagoyan uses a method developed in Switzerland..

Four-year old Nina is quietly sitting on a chair, looking blankly around her environment.

Teacher Erna Shagoyan, a specialist for the deaf and dumb, steps behind her and starts shaking a plastic box full of buttons and stones, and Nina's face comes alive.

There is a reason why the teacher doesn't face her impaired student. She wants the girl to rely on communication other than lip-reading or hand gestures.

"Our goal is to develop oral speech and the hearing of the deaf children. We use the new Swiss methodology, that is, we don't make hand gestures and don't look at the lips," Shagoyan explains. "To develop the hearing ability we speak to the child either from behind or from the side angle."

Nina has congenital deafness. She communicates with great difficulty. The doctor encourages her to say something, or to dance to the beat of a drum. Finally, the girl gains the courage to utter the Armenian alphabet.

Shaghoyan says Nina is a very smart girl. She is, though, one whose disability could be crippling.

Nina is one of 24 children enrolled in the Havat Center at Children's Republic Hospital in Arabkir. Here, children with speech problems are taught to speak, before attending regular secondary school. Two children entered this school session. Others will be prepared for next September's start of the school year.

Shaghoyan works with four children a day, spending about 45 minutes with each child. The lessons take place twice a week and parents are expected to somewhat become specialists themselves if the desired goal is to be achieved.

Tamara Manukyan is chief of the center and co-president of Havat.

"When the Soviet system collapsed, children with hearing disability were left out of the specialists' attention," she says. "Because of low social-economic conditions, parents were unable to buy hearing aids".

Havat was founded in 1996 to respond to the needs of such children. An initial donation of about $40,000 by the Jinishian Fund a US-based charity, enabled the center to purchase necessary diagnostic equipment.

Students are encouraged to not rely on face-to-face instruction..

Manukyan says that before Havat, deaf-and-dumb children at the center - the only one in Armenia - were deprived of help because the center's diagnostic equipment needed repair.

Today, children from age six months and up come to the center for evaluation. About 1,000 are registered, but specialists say the number throughout the republic is greater. A UNESCO and Eurasia Fund program "Integration of Deaf Children", started in March of this year donated money for buying computers.

In addition to speech therapy, school-aged children are also taught to use computers.

"Twelve deaf children have finished the computer classes and continue to study computer science university," Manukyan says. "Two of them are future programmers, the rest are specialists of computer design. This is extremely important. The handicapped child has an opportunity to get modern education."

One of the main achievements of the center has been its ability to get hearing aids for the students, which the Ministry of Social Insurance was not able to provide.

Since 2002, Havat is realizing a permanent project through the donations of Diaspora Howard Karagozian, which enables them to provide the children younger than 14 with free "Oticon" hearing devices ($150-$200 value).

According to specialists, if the diagnosis of the children is realized by age five, development of oral speech is possible. Otherwise everything must depend on sign and body language.

A further part of the center's work, in conjunction with World Education, is to carry out a project of realization of sign-language translation of television programs for adults and children.

Manukyan says: "The usage of the surd-translation is the most effective method to provide with information the 3,500 (officially registered deaf and dumb) people who have problems with hearing".

According to the results of a Havat survey deaf people prefer to watch the informative, medical television programs as well as programs on children topics. They are also interested in crime-related programs.

Seda Martirosyan, 64, lost her hearing at age 10 and can speak enough to express the difficulties of her disability:

"I live alone. I can't listen to the radio, and I can't buy newspapers. "I will never know if there is an emergency situation in the country. And I can only guess what they talk about on TV."

Manukyan mentions that some changes have been made in the law concerning the disabled of the Republic of Armenia. In the past the parents had to update the children's documents once every two years, thus facing many difficulties.

That has changed today. Now the disability document is given once by the age of 18.

Since April of this year Havat is advocating constitutional changes in tax laws that would exempt valued-added taxes for any employer whose staff includes at least half of employees with disabilities.

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