Three students are attempting to transform the way in which the deaf and mute people are received and perceived in Pakistani society; namely not as people to sympathise with and feel sorry for, but rather people who have their own identity and be included in the wider society.
Arhum, Azima and Areej are three students who were united through the Pakistan US Alumni Network that facilitates students and provides them with the opportunity to travel on exchange to the US through their YES program. When asked what inspired these three hardworking individuals towards the cause, they related the story to The Express Tribune of Azima’s deaf-mute parents.
“Working for civic causes is a social responsibility we have towards the society. Azima’s parents are deaf and mute, and she has been closely involved with the hearing-speech impaired community all her life. We saw the struggles faced by them because of the huge communication gap they face every day. We saw how opportunities were limited to them because people don’t strive for inclusion in the workplace. They were dependent on their friends and family for things as simple as visiting the doctor or attending a workshop. This is the story of approximately 500,000 hearing and speech impaired people in Pakistan, and we at ConnectHear aim to facilitate them through our services,” Areej told us.
The aim of “ConnectHear”, an initiative founded by these three individuals aims to “spread the deaf culture in the community and to promote inclusion,” as Azima puts it. While working on this initiative has been a growing experience for all three of them, they told The Express Tribune. “For this purpose, we had to brainstorm a lot to design our social campaigns. Our messages had to be sensitive, yet we had to make sure that we were not channelling the message of sympathy. The hearing and speech impaired deserves to be recognised for their identity, and not be sympathised for it. Getting the right message across was our biggest challenge, and still is.”
They state that ConnectHear is not just a service providing platform, but they are also aiming to create a need for sign language interpretation services to “make the hearing-speech impaired community completely integrated into all sectors.” Commenting on the current state of sign language interpretation and the way in which it is being treated and/or dealt with in the society, Azima retorted, “Formal sign language interpretation services do not exist in a larger domain right now, and automated translations do not exist for Pakistan Sign Language (PSL). Thus, people are unaware of how these elements can create a huge difference in the lives of the persons with hearing-speech impairments.”
“ConnectHear has the vision to automate sign language interpretation completely through technology. Right now, we’re working towards an audio to Pakistan sign language software and in our later plans, we hope to set up a sign language to audio software as well. This will bridge the communication gap in a sustainable manner, enabling the hearing-speech impaired community to be independent,” the ambitious trio proudly tells The Express Tribune.
When asked about the future of this project, or what they achieve to hope from this, Areej states, “We plan to provide sign language interpretation services, in person and video based. This will cater to hearing-speech impaired individuals and organisations that cater to them. Furthermore, we’re developing a software that will automatically convert audio to Pakistan Sign Language”
The trio also gained tremendous response, offering the story of a man from Gujranwala who took their video-based interpretation service to get himself an ATM card. they said he had been trying to communicate with bank staff, and ConnectHear helped him bridge the communication gap.
While discussing how the three of them connected to each other and founded the startup, they told The Express Tribune, “Azima is the CEO, since she understands the hearing-speech impaired community and their struggles the best. Arhum is the chief technology officer. He is working on the software and technology behind ConnectHear. Areej is the chief strategy officer and handles the start up development strategies behind ConnectHear for a sustainable startup.”
The three of them told us how they had met and interacted with Azima’s family and recognised the difficulties they had to go through for the simplest of tasks as well.
“We want them to be independent and not stay restricted because of their limitations.”
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