According to data by the World Health Organisation, 63 million people suffer from significant auditory loss in India. Despite such a large population of the deaf, representation for this community is almost negligible in the country, with inclusivity seeming like a distant dream. Keeping this in mind, the lifestyle brand Atulyakala attempts to create a means of livelihood for the deaf community all while challenging conventional stereotypes.
Founded in 2013 by Smriti Nagpal, who is a professional sign language interpreter, Atulyakala aims to empower the deaf community through various design-led initiatives. As a social enterprise, they have managed to create a unique model that provides the deaf community with employment opportunities and promotes the message of inclusivity. The deaf artists here craft bags, journals, rugs, as well as other similar lifestyle products.
Nagpal, who is a SODA (Sibling Of Deaf Adult), learnt Indian Sign Language (ISL) when she was young so as to communicate with her two deaf siblings. “I picked up ISL early in life since that was a means of communication in my family. I would often act as a link between my siblings and parents.”
On an inclusive path
Atulyakala aims to help members of the deaf community live a life of dignity by creating employment opportunities for them. “We have a team of 11 and only two of us can hear; the rest of the members are deaf. They work across profiles such as finance, photography, blogging, sales, social media content creation, and designing. We have been able to foster an inclusive workspace primarily for the deaf community.”
As a sign-language friendly workspace, they prioritise the needs of deaf members. “When someone from the hearing community joins, they have to learn sign language and know about deaf culture,” shares Nagpal. Gourav Kumar, the brand’s communication and marketing head, who started working with them in 2018, says, “Before joining Atulyakala, I thought communication would be a hurdle, but we have been available to work our way around that quite easily.”
Moving ahead with time
Taking their venture forward, Atulyakala has also been actively promoting ISL. “We have been conducting ISL classes and workshops. Over the years, about 40,000 people have participated in these workshops, mostly free,” Nagpal shares.
We ask Nagpal about the measures required to create accessible spaces for communities such as the deaf. “We first need to recognise ISL as an official language. We also need to address the stigma around deafness. Connecting deafness to sympathy and sadness is not veracious. From letting them take proper jobs to giving them opportunities to drive [vehicles], there is a lot that needs to be reformed,” she concludes.