A good appearance, a strong voice and the ability to improvise and to carry on an interesting conversation are desirable characteristics in TV hosts, especially on morning shows with high viewing rates.
32-year-old Omani national Sultan Nasir Al Ameri may not fit all the above criteria. You cannot hear his voice, and an untrained TV director and camera crew would not be able to communicate with him.
Regardless, he did not let that stand in his way; he challenged the stereotype and became the first deaf TV host in the Arab world last year with a segment on Morning Coffee, a show on Oman’s national television. Sultan also champions to better the lives of Oman’s 15,000 deaf nationals through his role as the chairman of Oman Society for Hearing Impaired, which he undertook in 2015.
Our interview with Sultan was conducted in an unconventional way, using WhatsApp messenger as our translating device, where his positivity and determination were transferred through his written words.
Sultan talked us through his rough early years. Along with his two other deaf siblings, his father sought a cure for his children in Oman and abroad in Germany, but with the risk involved in the proposed medical procedure, he decided not to go through with it. He enrolled his children in public schools before moving them to a special needs school that included other challenged individuals who were not deaf.
Sultan was not able to receive the education he desired because the program was not tailored for deaf students. With the help and encouragement of his family and close friend Hilal, who is also deaf, he enrolled in different programs and workshops to develop his skills and master sign language, and soon enough, he provided sign language workshops in the Oman Society for Hearing Impaired.
At a sign language workshop he led there, he met the renowned Omani television host of Morning Coffee, Abdullah Al Sabbah, who proposed that he present a segment on his show. With only a 30-minute crash course in television presenting, hesitant and nervous, Sultan was placed in front of a live camera. His brother, Hamad, a 24-year-old college student, dubbed his voice.
As soon as the show was over, he received a congratulatory call for a job well done from Oman’s Minister of Information H.E. Dr Abdulmonem Al Hosni.
During the past year, Sultan interviewed more than 50 personalities on live television, with Hamad continuing to step in as his voice, and has helped raise awareness about the challenges faced by the deaf in society.
“Deaf people are challenged from a young age, especially in education. But now we have universities and colleges, such as Gulf College in Oman, which was the first college that introduced programs for deaf students in 2009 which have helped equip them with the right degree and knowledge to enter the job market,” says Sultan. He is an advocate for introducing more programs in Oman’s colleges for deaf students and has helped send 25 deaf Omani students to Gallaudet University on scholarships. The university is in Washington, D.C., in the United States, and is the world’s only university for deaf and hard-of-hearing students.
“But the real challenge faced is in our daily interactions, when we have to go to government agencies or companies to process documents and there are no translators,” he adds.
It was then, in mid-2016, that he founded Tawasol Training Institute in Muscat, the only accredited institute in Oman that provides sign language training courses.
“I’m extremely proud of our community members who are enrolling in our sign language courses just so that they would be able to communicate with us better,” says Sultan, who helped introduce 27 sign language translators in Oman through the program.
Though he is a star TV host, Sultan is also an active social media user, with more than 40,000 followers on his Instagram page, where he shares his career journey, tips and life lessons.
“Social media channels aided us in raising awareness about sign language, as well as our challenges, and as a result, I have witnessed an increase in the number of people interested and willing to learn sign language,” states Sultan.
Sultan’s father has been his greatest supporter, encouraging him and his siblings to develop from an early age, and this is the exact kind of support that Sultan wants to see in the education system.
“I hope that sign language becomes a mandatory class to be taken across all schools in the Sultanate, as well as be introduced as a university major,” advocates Sultan.
As for what the future holds for Sultan, he is motivated to build upon what he is doing.
“Oman’s 15,000 deaf nationals are capable of giving back to this country, and we will work on ensuring that,” he assures.