This is one story in my series of posts spotlighting underrepresented communities around the world and the entrepreneurs trying to help them. In this first installment, I examine a service making life easier for deaf people.
From a young age, Thibault Duchemin noticed a divide between his deaf family members and the rest of the world. Since they couldn’t hear, he often noticed that they tended to communicate solely with each other. As a hearing person born into an entirely deaf family, he found himself always serving as mediator.
“Being a hearing kid in a deaf family, you end up normally going to a doctor with your family, answering phone calls from telemarketers, and always being this bond between society and other human people around you and the deaf people around you,” says Duchemin.
This ongoing predicament just didn’t feel right. The entrepreneur found himself constantly in the middle of conversations where deaf people kept getting “left behind.” He noticed that for deaf people, life constantly felt like traveling in a country where everyone speaks a different language. He vowed to change this.
Bringing Hope to a Neglected Community
Duchemin saw how the entire deaf community worldwide has been affected by this disenfranchisement. The deaf world needed a tool to help it understand the hearing world better in real time. He came up with an idea that could empower people who had long felt neglected.
“No matter if you’re deaf, culturally deaf, hard of hearing or you’re a senior, every person with hearing loss which is higher than 40 decibels starts having problems just following conversations,” Duchemin says. “Face-to-face works because you’re slow enough in your feedback. But in groups all the dynamics change. Try to follow somebody, and then somebody else starts speaking. You lose those visual cues, and you end up being lost all the time.”
Along with his co-founders Skinner Cheng and Pieter Doevendans, Duchemin founded Ava, an app that provides real-time captions while people talk. The app records and transcribes spoken words in real time and pairs smartphones in any group, with the captions identifying speakers by their corresponding devices.
Short for Audio Visual Accessibility, Ava requires every member of a conversation to have the app on their own smartphones. The app recognizes the audio and then tags and color codes participants in the discussion, letting the deaf person…[continue reading]