Two women have created a low-cost encyclopaedia to make knowledge and information accessible to people with hearing disabilities.
When curiosity gets the better of you, you simply Google your query. Answers clarifying your doubts come in both long and short form from different sources. But that is the easiest thing for you.
However, an easy every day activity for abled people isn’t quite the same for people with disabilities. And Jahnavi Joshi and Nupura Kirloskar from BleeTech Innovations, not only understand that, but also empathise with it so much that they made it their aim to change that.
Over the course of six months, Jahnavi and Nupura built AskBlee, which is essentially a low-cost encyclopaedia especially for people with hearing disabilities. “Information and knowledge, like language, isn’t perceived alike by everyone. It differs from person to person,” begins Nupura, explaining their innovation. “Similarly, people with hearing disabilities do not perceive the English language the same way as the abled crowd. And our aim is to make this information accessible for people with hearing disabilities,” she says.
With the aim to make information and knowledge easily accessible for hearing disabled people, Nupura and Jahnavi designed AskBlee as a simple way of asking questions and receiving answers — in any desired language, including the Indian Sign Language.
“One of the biggest hindrances people with hearing disabilities face on a regular basis is inaccessible knowledge owing to language posing as a hurdle,” says the 25-year-old Nupura. “The population of hearing disabled people is nearly 27 million (Thomson Reuters Foundation, 2017). But, even in schools, children aren’t taught the Indian Sign Language (ISL). To overcome this, we also have short videos teaching a user in the sign language,” she continues.
Through the app, Nupura, Jahnavi and their team of four, answer queries from thousands of people. “The queries we receive are spread across a plethora of subjects. From general knowledge and politics to current affairs and English learning, we are asked anything and everything,” explains Nupura. “And we ensure that we respond to every query. All one needs to go is to type their question on WhatsApp on the number 8828983830. They can even send in their query in a question-video in ISL format and we will answer in the preferred language,” she says.
The girls, who are also trained in classical dance form, have in the past worked on another innovation that enables the deaf community to dance on rhythm patterns (titled BleeWatch). Through YouTube channel, BleeTV, the girls create entertainment and education videos in ISL to break barriers between the hearing and the deaf — all on one platform. “We have even made an ISL video on how to impress a girl. It is a fun, light video that addresses the concern,” laughs Nupura.
When the duo submitted their innovation to Enable Makeathon, a programme initiated by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and its partners to develop prototypes and affordable solutions for challenges faced by persons with disabilities, particularly those living in rural areas, they were met with more than just applause — they won over `16 lakh as funding.
Deepti Soni from ICRC has been working on the Enable Makeathon project for close to a year. “The entire aim of the project is to source innovative prototypes for challenges faced by people with disabilities in their everyday lives,” she begins. “Teams of engineers, scientists, designers, innovators, persons with disabilities, humanitarians, manufacturers, investors and entrepreneurs competed against each other for funding and grants enabling them to further develop and market their innovations. The purpose of the programme is to crowd source prototype solutions and products to address 12 challenges related to accessibility and employability, which are faced by persons who are hearing impaired, sight impaired, or living with locomotor disabilities,” she explains.
For Nupura and Jahnavi, the next step is important. “There is so much potential in this app and the only way forward is ahead. We aim to collaborate with corporate companies across banking, health care and e-commerce sector, and make their content accessible for our audience,” says Nupura.