Islamabad: Three Pakistani friends, born with hearing and visual disabilities, have made the impossible possible by empowering the deaf community with the use of technology to help them overcome their everyday challenges.
Wamiq Hassan, the co-founder of the DeafTawk sign language interpretation app, faced several difficulties during his school years in Pakistan as a deaf person and was often “rejected due to unavailability of sign language interpreters.” When Hassan returned home after completing his education in the United States, he realised that there are 10 million people in Pakistan who still face the same challenges that he did 15 years ago.
Empowering Pakistan’s deaf community
In 2019, Wamiq, a computer engineer, and two of his friends Ali Shabbar and Abdul Qadeer, who are both visually impaired, co-founded the DeafTawk app to empower Pakistan’s deaf community. “We decided to quit our lucrative jobs and focus on bridging the communication gap” for our people, DeafTawk co-founder Abdul Qadeer told Gulf News. Qadeer earlier helped automate banking operations for people with disabilities.
As someone living with disabilities, the co-founders better understood the pain and problems that people with hearing loss face every day. With this app, “We want to create an inclusive society for all and empower deaf the community” says Wamiq Hassan, also the founder of hearing aid technology in Samsung smartphones.
First-of-its-kind Pakistani app
DeafTawk, the first-of-its-kind app piloted in Pakistan has witnessed exponential growth and expanded to 5 countries in three years. It was declared one of the best startups across the Asia Pacific by UNDP. DeafTawk aims to empower the deaf community across the globe by providing quality sign language services to improve their access to services. The company is now headquartered in the US with branches in Pakistan, Singapore, Sri Lanka, and Denmark.
The startup recently made history by becoming Pakistan’s first organisation to provide live sign-language interpretation service at the world’s top mobile technology event, Mobile World Congress (MWC) Barcelona. “The MWC experience was overwhelming. We received great recognition as well as lots of opportunities for networking and building future partnerships,” Qadeer said.
The assistive app allows deaf users to sign up, connect with qualified interpreters, and use the service to communicate with anyone, including doctors, teachers, cab drivers, and relatives. The app currently has over 18,700 users and employs around 1,100 professional interpreters, offering services in six language styles, including Urdu, English, Chinese, and Malay. The app is free to download on both Android and iOS. There are multiple packages that start from the affordable $5 per month. There are 18,750 users in Pakistan using DeafTawk to communicate with the general public.
Potential and challenges
Detailing the app development process, Abdul Qadeer shared “It took us almost 9 months to build the app from scratch. Currently, we are working on upgrading its features with Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), AI bot, and Group Calling.”
Talking about some of the challenges the startup is facing, he said the major problem is that there are few sign language interpreters globally. “The ratio of an interpreter to the deaf is 1:500. However, all deaf users can be facilitated easily with the help of an AI bot” which is what the company is focused on. The startup is also working on “human-less sign language interpretation where a humongous database for machine learning is required” which would require more investments and technical resources but will “make DeafTawk one of the leading AI-based sign language interpretation services.”
The company has big plans for the future. DeafTawk aims to be the next Google Translator for the 466 million deaf and hearing-impaired people in the world.