While on one hand, ‘Siri’ and ‘Alexa’ are performing our menial tasks on a single voice command, at the same time, even now, over eighty-five lakh Indians with hearing and speech disability find it extremely difficult to communicate properly with the rest of the population. Though the standard Indian sign language is prevailing for decades and vehemently used in the country, very few of the ‘hearing-abled’ people learn it willingly.
No one has ever become poor by giving
– Anne Frank
To bridge this gap, Jaipur-based Sonant Technologies has developed a futuristic device for individuals with hearing and speech impairment. Named as ‘VOIS’, the device converts the text entered through a tactile glove into speech which is conveyed through a speaker. In addition, any interactive speech is converted into readable texts for the user, which is displayed on a wristband screen synced with the device. Recently, the device received considerable appreciation from the Prime Minister himself and presently it is awaiting a patent.
From a hobby project to a hope for millions: Sonant Technologies
“During my childhood, I was in close acquaintance with a neighbour who was hearing and speech-impaired. That was how I learnt about the day to day struggles faced by these people. In the absence of a proper mode of communication, they are forced to stay isolated from the mainstream,” Abhinav shares with Efforts For Good, adding that the urge to discover a solution to this crisis had always been at the back of his mind. As an engineering student, Abhinav started working on a prototype of the device as a ‘hobby project’. “I tested the basic version of the device on my neighbour. The ray of hope gleaming in his eyes after a trial usage, motivated me to devote myself to this project full-time,” he mentions while sharing how he surrendered his dream to pursue higher research abroad to make ‘VOIS’ a reality today.
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The device comprises a pair of smart gloves with several ‘touch points’ – each of which represent a particular letter, word or sentence. “As of now, we have programmed the device to work only in English and Hindi, but we are working to incorporate around 80 other regional languages as well,” declares Abhinav.
The device can be used in three distinct modes – Sentence Mode (where each distinct spot designates a frequently used sentence or phrase, as customised by the user), Word Mode (each spot represents a regularly used word) & Full Language Mode (each touch spot corresponds to one alphabet or sound). When these spots are touched accordingly, the desired sentence/word is spoken out through a speaker.
Additionally, the ‘VOIS’ comprises a Listening Mode, when someone’s voice is converted into corresponding text for the deaf user, which he or she can easily read from the screen on the wristband.
Another significant feature of the device has to be the ‘Essential Alert’ system. “I knew a couple, both hearing-impaired, whose guilt feeling knew no bounds when they discovered that their newborn baby has been crying for a long time at night. The ‘Essential Alert’ system can be a saviour in such cases,” Abhinav explains, “Critical sounds like alarms, the crying of a baby, the doorbell ringing, a car honking on the street will be converted into vibrations of different patterns and intensity, alerting the user in time.”
Appreciations aplenty from the PM himself
‘VOIS’ is scheduled to be commercially launched by March 2019, in an affordable price range. It has already garnered international attention through a number of innovation conclaves and entrepreneurship competitions, most of which ‘VOIS’ has aced. Abhinav Vashishtha and Abhishek Gupta co-founded Sonant Technologies, which manufactured this technological marvel. “Our company has received financial and mentorship support from the State and Central Government. At the Indo-Israel Summit, this year, PM Narendra Modi and Israeli PM Netanyahu seemed to be visibly impressed by our device. In fact, PM Modi has even appreciated the product more than once in his speeches,” shares an excited Abhinav.
“They don’t trust us easily”
More than one unscrupulous agencies have duped the hearing-impaired community with promises of magical solutions to their limitations, causing the people to grow sceptical, even apathetic in some cases when Abhinav approached them with his device. “They do not want to be treated with sympathy or be deceived. That is why it took us a long time to blend in with them, understand their daily struggles and needs,” he shares.
How ‘VOIS’ can impact the society
“In Western countries, hearing and speech-impaired persons are able to read and write perfectly correct sentences. They are working as doctors, engineers, lawyers and what not. Whereas, look at India, where these people have no opportunities for accessible education, skill training and employment,” regrets Abhinav, when asked if they feel their device will bring forth a change.
The sign language in India is so poorly taught and communicated that only a handful of people with hearing or speech disability will be able to articulate a proper sentence. “If they want to say “My friend’s name is Rajesh”, most of them will end up arriving at “I friend Rajesh,” he reveals. With ‘VOIS’, the spirited duo is hoping to do away with this hindrance.
After testing their device on around a hundred people in India and over twenty people in the UK, the founders are content with highly positive feedback.
“Though the usage of the device involves an elaborate training procedure, we are working day and night to make it more comprehensive and user-friendly,” Abhinav assures.
The significance of the name
The founders have thoughtfully christened the device as ‘VOIS’ – derived from the French word ‘vois’ meaning ‘to see’. “We are opening a new vision for the hearing and speech-impaired community while gifting them a voice,” elaborates Abhinav.
Efforts For Good applauds this amazing innovation and hopes lakhs of Indians are truly benefitted from it.
With the extension of the lockdown the crisis of migrant labourers and daily wagers has just grown bigger due to uncertainty and fear of future. In the migrant colonies, slums and for people in the villages hunger and desperation is building up day by day. This is high time we step up our efforts to support our people who are in dire need of food and hygiene essentials to survive the pandemic, Covid-19.
After the India-wide lockdown, a lot of jobless migrant workers are stuck in cities with hardly any resources while many started retreating back to their villages. With the loss of livelihoods, a large number of them are now struggling to support their families.
Goonj activated its pan India teams and a pan India network of partner organizations and volunteers in urban and rural India. This network, built over the last two decades, helps them learn from the ground, reach material quickly and review and adapt strategy periodically. Intensifying this network has helped Goonj reach and start work across 17produced states/UT in the last three weeks.
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Majority of the Covid-19 relief work by non profits right now is in the metros and cities but Goonj is the only non profit that is also simultaneously focusing on the people in the villages and the ones stuck on highways or somewhere.
Goonj is targeting daily wagers, migrants and other vulnerable groups, who even traditionally are left out like the disabled, sex workers, LGBTQ community.
“COVID-19 is a crisis, yes…But, it’s also an opportunity for us to build the society anew. Not ‘for’ the people…but, ‘with’ the people. And in the process, we will build ourselves too.” – Anshu Gupta, Founder-Director, Goonj.
Direct Monetary and Material Transfer
Wherever Goonj got the permission to open their centres for packing and disbursement of relief material kits, they are creating a kit consisting of 20-30 kgs material including dry rations, masks, sanitary pads and other hygiene material and reaching them to people, as per needs and as per regulations with all safety precautions. This kit will help a family survive for 30 days.
Information till 10th April 2020:
Distributed 15,100 ration kits reaching thousands of people
Reached 17,700 families
Supporting 12 community kitchen across India with 16,600kgs of ration
77,800 food packets provided to migrant laborers and daily wagers walking on the roads across the country.
Provided direct financial support to 32 organisations
In Goonj’s processing centers its trained team of women are making cloth face masks and cloth sanitary pads (MY-Pads), keeping all the precautions and with the permission and cooperation of the local authorities.
In this lock-down phase if you are facing any difficulty getting sanitary pads or you are running out of stock, here’s a detailed but very simple process of making Cloth Pads at home created by Goonj. “This is how we make Goonj MY Pads.” This is how our mothers and grandmothers turned their spare cloth into pads.
This disaster, unlike any other, is unprecedented in its scale and impact and that’s why we all must do our bit with Goonj to continue its relief work for millions of people in this still unfolding long-tailed disaster.