If you look from afar it seems like just another ordinary school; colorful posters adorn the walls, children sit on neatly arranged desks with their heads buried between books. Nothing seems unusual, except: there is no noise when someone scores a six, the little ones snap their fingers to a silent nursery rhyme and a marker screeching across the whiteboard can be heard down the hall. You have now entered a remarkable school and college for the deaf in Pakistan.Located on main Korangi road in Karachi, ABSA School and College for the deaf is more than 50 years old and currently helps give over 300 deaf children the chance to lead a normal life. The school was started for Ayub Khan’s deaf grandson, by his mother, inside a small garage. The ladies would gather together every day just to help four or five deaf children play games. These children would make little pots of clay and draw pictures on paper, as there were no books and no concept of sign language. It was 1987 when ABSA published Pakistan’s first sign language dictionary. This was then used as a module by our neighboring countries- including India, Sri Lanka, Iran and Afghanistan. Today ABSA’s students are able to attend universities like the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture to pursue their bachelors. Many even go on to gain jobs with designers and fashion companies like Gul Ahmed. And all it started because one mother with significant influence in places of power wanted to see her deaf son happy.According to the Society for Audiological and Developmental Ailments (SADA) for every 1,000 children born in Pakistan, 7 to 8 suffer from loss of hearing. Currently an estimated 9 million people in Pakistan have some form of hearing loss. Given how small a percentage of the population this is(unless a family member suffers from hearing loss) many of us never come into contact with deaf persons in our daily routine. But the deaf do exist and their existence is marred by our society’s failure to acknowledge their needs. Associating the word abnormal to a deaf child is very common in Pakistan. As a result of this, many parents chose to keep a deaf child hidden within their homes. The fear of ‘what will people say’ trumps the deaf child’s right to a healthy and happy liveFor those of us blessed with the ability to hear it is difficult to imagine a silent life. You want to tell someone what you think and how you feel but nobody can understand you, so you are labeled as dumb- even though your IQ may be higher than the person standing before you. The deaf require spaces which can help them reach their potentials. Despite many schools like ABSA, less than 5% of the 1.25 million deaf children in Pakistan attend school. Consequently, without a proper education, they are limited to working low paid jobs like car valets.Associating the word abnormal to a deaf child is very common in Pakistan. As a result of this, many parents chose to keep a deaf child hidden within their homes. The fear of ‘what will people say’ trumps the deaf child’s right to a healthy and happy live. Moreover, parents who are not ashamed of their child’s disability are gripped by the need to protect them from being mistreated by the world outside. Children with no hearing impairment find it much easier to exclude a deaf child from their fun and games on the basis that he or she doesn’t understand anything. And it is up to the parents and teachers of a child who can hear to correct this misconception. The inability to hear by no means reduces a child’s ability to think, learn and participate in society; the children studying at ABSA are a proof of this. As I watched the students solve complex math equations and stitch delicate floral patterns, the silence surrounding them faded somewhere into the background. Their inability to speak ceased to define them. A sentence said to me by the school’s General Secretary Muleika Sayeed lingered behind: ‘Being deaf is not such a big handicap. After all, they are people with weak eyesight. They wear glasses.’The deaf may not be able to speak but they do have a language. Through sign language they can communicate absolutely anything. However, there are very few people with the ability to hear who are familiar with sign language. This means those who are deaf are still trapped in nooks and crannies of society, never able to enter the center. Internationally the ability to speak more than one language is recognized as a valuable skill. Similarly, many schools in Pakistan highlight the importance of learning languages be it Sindhi or French. However, sign language hardly ever makes the cut and it is important to ask why not? It is easy to take the ability to hear for granted. Being unable to communicate and partake in everyday activities can push an individual into a very lonely place. The deaf exist within our society but are often unable to be a part of it. Private and public schools should offer sign language as a subject (just as they offer other languages) to overcome this. Since the 18th amendment each province has control over its education system. If the relevant political parties push for legislation which makes it compulsory to offer sign language as a subject, thereby recognizing the hardships of others, we might just move towards becoming a more tolerant society.The writer has a Masters in media with a distinction from the London School of Economics Published in Daily Times, January 20th 2019.