The interactive alphabet

Bringing hearing and non-hearing people together

Volodymyr Charushyn
Volodymyr Charushyn, 16, presenting a master-class on the creating the “interactive sign language alphabet” in Kharkiv, Ukraine.
UNICEF/UN0285243/Markel

05 March 2019

My name is Volodymyr Charushyn and I am 16 years old. I live in Kharkiv, Ukraine. Unfortunately, I can’t hear, but that has never stopped me living life to the full.

I study at my local Special Education Complex. I have many friends and I love spending time with them. I also value my family, which consists of myself, my mom, my dad and my elder sister. Although I can’t hear, we have a lot of fun together.

As a child, I had no idea that other people didn’t understand the needs of the deaf. Now I am a rather grown-up and independent person. I try to solve many issues by myself and don’t ask my family members or teachers for help. But I’ve often faced a lack of understanding.

People who have never communicated with the non-hearing often avoid us, are afraid of us, and don’t know how to deal with us.

That’s why some of my friends and I came up with an idea to draw attention to the problems of people living with hearing disabilities.

The project is called Hear with Your Heart. It started after I applied to participate in the UPSHIFT Ukraine programme, which helps adolescents and youth to develop social entrepreneurship and other professional skills. For our project, my friends and I created a technology that teaches children how to use a dactyl [manual] alphabet to talk to non-hearing people.

Together with my friends, we produced a special “interactive alphabet”. This is a set of wooden cubes, where each letter is represented by a hand gesture and objects that have the letter in their name. We created several sets of these cubes like this and they will be placed in school playgrounds around Kharkiv. I believe that, thanks to this interactive alphabet, parents will not take their children away from the playground if a non-hearing child turns up there.

Volodymyr (right) and his team from “Hear with the Heart” UPSHIFT project delivering a master-class on creating the interactive alphabet cubes in Kharkiv, Ukraine.
UNICEF/UN0285238/Markel
Volodymyr (right) and his team from “Hear with the Heart” UPSHIFT project delivering a master-class on creating the interactive alphabet cubes in Kharkiv, Ukraine.

By working on the Hear with Your Heart project, I was able to show society that there are many people like me and that the deaf have their own language – sign language. I was able to involve Kharkiv citizens in learning the sign language. They were curious about it, asked many questions and decided to learn it so that they could communicate without ‘borders’.

To spread awareness, we created calendars, posters and ecological tote bags. We also had a small advertising campaign in the local underground to promote our project to a wider audience. 

My friends and I are teaching people about the culture of the non-hearing, and it is very interesting. Sign language songs alone are something! Many people watched them being performed for the first time at various events and realized that they can communicate with us. I also shared some of my experiences of pyrography classes, which is the art of decorating wood. I must say it is not easy to teach people something they have never encountered before! But it is also very satisfying to see the result – beautiful drawings appear on blank wood.

 

Volodymyr (center) with friends and UPSHIFT teammates and, Maria Shatalova, 17, and Fedir Stadnyk, 15, in Kharkiv, Ukraine. Together, they work on erasing communication barriers between hearing and non-hearing people.
UNICEF/UN0285238/Merkel
Volodymyr (center) with friends and UPSHIFT teammates and, Maria Shatalova, 17, and Fedir Stadnyk, 15, in Kharkiv, Ukraine. Together, they work on erasing communication barriers between hearing and non-hearing people.

Now I am thinking about how to solve the problem of communication in public spaces, such as restaurants and cafes. I hope the Government will help me to introduce dactyl alphabet menus, video menus in sign language and sign-language courses for waiters.

I don’t want to stop. I’ll keep moving forward, because I can’t be indifferent when someone out there feels bad or when life is hard for them.

About UPSHIFT

UPSHIFT is a global innovations project that covers 22 countries worldwide and aims to develop young people’s social entrepreneurship skills. In Ukraine, UPSHIFT is being implemented by the “Professional Development of Kharkiv” NGO in the framework of UNICEF’s “Strengthening the resilience and civic engagement of adolescent and youth in conflict-affected eastern Ukraine” programme, funded by the European Union (EU). The programme combines social innovation workshops with mentorship, materials and seed funding, in order to equip young people with the skills and resources they need to identify problems and challenges in their communities and find solutions to these problems.