The Authority for Social Contribution, Ma’an – a recently launched government entity in Abu Dhabi, UAE, aims to help deliver solutions for social challenges as well as encouraging community participation and involvement.
They have announced the 10 social entrepreneurs to join their very first program – the Ma’an Social Incubator.
Over the next few weeks, once such team, ‘We Hear You’, will be developing a mobile app that will make things much easier for people of determination by converting text messages to sign language and vice versa.
In a Q&A with Mohammed Aboelazim and Eman Khamis, members of I Hear You, we inquired more about their plans. Here’s what they had to say:
1. Intriguing. How did the concept come up?
“We were exposed to a situation where we were approached by a deaf person asking for help and we could not communicate with him and neither could he explain what his emergency was, him being without a phone, paper or pen. It was difficult to actually offer the needed help, but the situation triggered us to take action to establish better channels for communication for deaf people.”
2. Why is the need so important that it needs to be fulfilled with technology?
Unfortunately, many deaf people have problems with reading and writing. When you turn the text to sign language you are keeping their identity, making them feel in their comfort zone and assuring them that we do respect their language. We are not imposing anything on people – on the contrary – we are opening channels of communication through both text and sign language that will help them and us communicate better and more easily.
3. How does it work technically, i.e. from text prompt to language interpretation and vice versa?
You simply type what you need to say through text or an audio recording and the application translates it to visual sign language (through an animated character) or the other way round, i.e the deaf person writes what needs to be said in sign language and the app translates it to audio/text.
4. What positive impact will the technology have on the recipients personally, socially and professionally
We hope that this will reduce feelings of isolation and help promote inclusion in our society. Socially, it will open up channels for easy and smooth communication in our community. Professionally, this will help create more work chances for the hearing impaired as they will be able to communicate easily with external parties and colleagues who are not hearing impaired and vice versa – if they need to finish errands at their end they can easily communicate with others and explain what they need without help. We are aiming at implementing this across the UAE and have this app everywhere, including government and private sectors.
5. How is this social startup being funded? Is the idea so crucial to enable a sustainable fundraising effort over the long term?
Similar incubator/accelerator programs are crucial for start-ups. The Ma’an Social Incubator has been our first fund and it is an amazing opportunity for growth and learning more about how to be a sustainable start-up. Our idea is one of a kind in the region and we have met with associations and individuals from the community and others who are actually suffering from hearing difficulties and have been super excited to have such an application implemented worldwide. We strongly believe that everyone has the right to be heard and with such application we can ensure and secure sustainable fundraising for the years to come.
6. What other innovations can we expected related to the technology for the hearing impaired?
Technology has no limits and everyday new ideas are constantly bombarding the market. The focus of such innovations is basically to work on inventions that would facilitate the communication channels between the hearing impaired and the community offering more services to solve the problems they face on a daily basis.
7. How does the community look at the hearing impaired and how does the media tackle or report on this?
There has been more community awareness in the past couple of years and the media has been shedding lights on the importance of inclusion and breaking down the barriers. Also, with the help of government initiatives, projects, campaigns and activities, this has helped to change perspectives and highlight the importance of integrating the hearing impaired with the community.