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Themes: Assistive & Accessible Technology

Innovation Spotlight: Completing the communication cycle among deaf, hard of hearing, and hearing people

An African male in a blue shirt smiling at the camera

Harrison Kamau

Communications and Engagement Executive

This blog is part of our weekly #InnovationSpotlight - exploring the stories of ventures within our GDI Hub Accelerate portfolio. Here we meet Veezaviz, who completed our Kenyan Based Innovate Now Accelerator.

22-year-old Elly Savatia’s journey in Innovation started quite early in his high school years.

I remember seeing a student who used crutches almost fall while using the stairs, and I thought of a prototype of a staircase that would reconfigure itself into a ramp or stairs based on the need.

Savatia, founder of Veezaviz

Photo of Elly Savatia, smiling while looking into the camera.
Founder of Veezaviz

This was the genesis of his experiments that shaped his career trajectory, as a social entrepreneur. One more encounter with students at a deaf school in Kenya cemented his resolve to find solutions for disabled people and the wider community.

Savatia vividly remembers interacting with deaf students in 2019 during one of his volunteer sessions with the Young Scientists Kenya (YSK) programs in Kenya, Migori County. He was tasked with mentoring high school students in STEM and robotics. During this visit, he remembers the challenge of trying to communicate with the students who were eager to learn but him not able to communicate with them effectively since he was not proficient in sign language. As an innovator, he decided that he would use his skills and social capital to alleviate this communication barrier using technology, the power of machine learning (AI), and 3D avatar tools. This was the birth of Veezaviz.

Savatia and his team set out create a new generation of innovative technology that enables two-way communication among deaf, hard of hearing, and hearing people. They make this possible by using machine learning-based sign language interpretation and automated avatar sign language generation technologies.

Innovate Now was a redeeming quality because it gave us a community when we were building at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the greatest lessons we learnt was that when you are building solutions for persons with disabilities, build with them

Savatia, founder of Veezaviz

Automated avatar sign language generation
Automated avatar sign language generation

Initially, they set out to ensure that their product was helpful to people with hearing disabilities. But at the Innovate Now accelerator program, they were able to access the live labs where they had an opportunity to work with the end users directly while getting critical feedback. During this stage, they realised that their creation would only solve one side of the equation. How do people with hearing impairments communicate with others who can hear but not vice versa.

This caused them to go back to the drawing board, and they have now bridged that gap through software that takes advantage of already loaded sign language data into the system. Here it utilises sign language in front of the app's live camera, and you will be able to decipher the words through text.

This is a game changer because the communication cycle is now complete. People with hearing impairment can use sign language to communicate, and those without hearing impairment can also communicate with them without the need for an interpreter.

My involvement in the project has been an insightful and inspiring experience. Building the technology was not as easy as it first seemed. The product we have built and are building incorporates both 3D infrastructure and software development, which meant we had to be at our expert best in both worlds. We have progressed and come this far despite facing algorithm optimization challenges.

Daniel Moenga, Chief Technical Officer Veezaviz

Moving forward, Veezaviz would like to scale and accommodate different sign language dialects soon. The goal is to put the tool into the hands of the deaf community, into the hands of the hearing community. This will enable them to communicate freely at any point, be it at a doctor’s appointment, at school, or even at a restaurant.

This great leap is a testament of what Innovate Now, set to achieve. Using digital Assistive Technology to support the full inclusion of persons with disabilities in everyday life through offering digital assistive technology solutions across education, healthcare, livelihoods, and other sectors.

About Innovate Now

Innovate Now was launched in 2019 as part of the £40 million, UK Aid funded, AT2030 program, led by Global Disability Innovation Hub. "Implemented through a consortium of partners including Amref Health Africa (lead implementing partner 2019-2021) and Kilimanjaro Blind Trust (Live Labs implementing partner and new lead implementing partner)." (“Innovate Now, Africa's first Assistive Technology accelerator, reignited .”) Today’s Innovation Now is a partnership between the Global Disability Innovation Hub (GDI Hub), ICT Norway and Norad, bringing a new wave of momentum in the African innovation space.