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Sunday, 6 February 2011

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Hear their plea; See their plight: A unique initiative in Tel Aviv

Have we created enough public awareness among our society to accept deaf and blind people as equal citizens and promote universal values of solidarity, mutual respect, tolerance and coexistence?

When this has turned into an important dialogue in many societies, Israel has set up a perfect example to the entire world on how to advance the needs and aspirations of this neglected social group by creating an attitudinal change among the Israeli society at large on the deaf and blind people.

The "Nalaga'at" Center, located at the Jaffa Port in Tel Aviv strives to provide the deaf-blind population of Israel a unique opportunity to achieve artistic expression by providing them the due recognition in the society. The "Nalaga'at" Center which functions as a non-profit organization in Israel has opened its gates to the public in December 2007. The centre has turned into a unique and daring initiative as it is the only deaf-blind theatre company in the world. Since its opening to the public, the center has become a place where the people who can hear and see and the people with hearing and/or vision impairments can meet and communicate.

As a distinguished feature, the centre comprises three key features: the "Nalaga' at" Theater, home to the Deaf-blind Acting Ensemble; Cafe Kapish, with its deaf waiters and BlackOut, the pitch restaurant with its staff of blind waiters. The "Nalaga' at" Center has employed nearly 70 people, most of whom are deaf, blind or deaf-blind. "Nalaga'at" Center through these three novel concepts has provided a unique experience to the people on the true lifestyle of the deaf and blind people by completely changing their attitude on how they think of these special social group who deserves much public attention.

Thousands of Israeli people and foreigners visit the center and enjoy an exceptional artistic experience. As a journalist who came to Israel to attend the International Workshop on Media Strategies for Social Change organized by the Golda Meir Mount Carmel International Training Centre, I also had the rare opportunity to view the drama performed by these deaf-blind artistes and gained the experience of their BalckOut restaurant. The "Nalaga' at" Center has been established based on the concept that every human being has the right to contribute to the society he lives in. A visit made by us to the center completely changes the way we think and feel about the af-blind.

Curtain

"Nalaga' at" which has been founded by Art Director Adina Tal and Eran Gur in December 2002 has raised the curtain with its maiden production "Light is Heard in Zig Zag" - a play written and directed by Adina Tal for twelve deaf-blind individuals who up till then had lived in total darkness and silence. Adina has been engaged in the field of theater both as a director and as an actress for many years. Following the success of her initial play, Adina has engaged with the actors in the production of the second show "Not by Bread Alone". This journey denotes her constant search for creating new ways of communication within the group and between actors and audiences. The "Nalaga' at" Center had received full recognition when its founder and General Manager Adina Tal was awarded the Chesed Award (Honour of Grace) at a moving ceremony at the Knesset.

The "Nalaga' at" Theater provides its audience an artistic and human experience and seeks to change people's perceptions and views. The theatre has provided a unique opportunity to the public to meet a quite unusual group of deaf and blind people, who are very creative to present their audience with a wonderful gift-the gift of art.

Eleven actors stage their play under the theme of "Not by bread alone". Under this theme, they have engaged in rehearsals for the last two years. During many months they have familiarized themselves with the various stages of baking bread. Until the breads are baked, the actors stage their drama to entertain the audience.

Vibrations

According to Adina Tal it took a long and complex process until the actors reached the point of sensing the vibrations created by the drum, even from the distance. In this way a new form of communication was created, combining the unique human drama of this group with the theatrical stage. The "Nalaga'at" theater actors are deaf and blind. Some have traces of sight, some have traces of hearing, some are totally blind and some are totally deaf. According to Adina Tal, most of deaf and blind people have the ability to communicate only with those who are familiar with sign language through touch. With "Nalaga'at", in addition to the accepted sign language, the actors communicate with one another in many different ways. Each and every member has his or her specific communicative needs and abilities and during their years together the members of the group have learned how to communicate with each other.

As another significant part of the "Nalaga'at" Center, Cafe Kapish restaurant is conducted by the deaf and hearing-impaired waiters and they engage in a dialogue with us in a language yet unfamiliar-sign language. You shall be amazed to find out how pleasant and easy communicating without words can be and how an ordinary night-out can soon turn to an 'out of this world' experience. Hundreds of Israeli people come to this restaurant daily to eat the delicious food served by these deaf and hearing-impaired youth. Each one who come to this restaurant is warmly welcome by these youth and lot of Israeli people come to the restaurant by paying their lot of love and affection to these youth. Though these youth can't talk or hear, they through their sign language provide a more friendly and efficient service to the customers. While offering their services, they also engaged in a demonstration and display various words written in placards by asking the customers whether they are satisfied with the service rendered by them. All the customers in the restaurant are seen to respond them in the same sign language by highly appreciating their service.

Meanwhile the BlackOut restaurant has become the main culinary attraction at the center. It invites the people to an exceptional culinary experience that will trigger their senses. This has provided a unique opportunity to the people to gain the similar experience of a blind person.

Before we entered the BlackOut restaurant, a staff member explained the procedures and we were asked to place our bags and cellphones in nearby lockers with keys. Those who enter into this BlackOut restaurant should stay nearly 20 minutes inside it in complete darkness.

Later a very friendly waitress escorted us to our table leading us single file, with hands on shoulders. Several tables had been arranged for us and other visitors and we were served bread and wine, escorted by blind waiters in the total darkness.

A large number of Israeli people and foreigners come to the BlackOut restaurant to gain its unique dining experience. After coming out of this BlackOut restaurant, it provides a perfect learning experience to get a better understanding of life for the blind and to learn something about ourselves as well. Through these three novel concepts of "Nalaga' at" Theater, Cafe Kapish and BlackOut Restaurant, Israel has been able to create an effective awareness campaign among the Israeli society and focus much public attention to look after the deaf and blind people.

Therefore this would be a perfect example to countries worldwide which are looking for various new initiatives to look after their deaf and blind people.

 

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