Two young couples in Kerala have joined hands for a special project inside the government-backed Technopark in Thiruvananthapuram that aims to build an online link to a better future for the hearing impaired.
Along with three others, they are the brains behind Digital Arts Academy for Deaf (DAAD), which is being incubated by the state government’s Kerala Start-up Mission to develop course videos in sign language to teach basic IT skills to the hearing impaired.
But for this team of seven, it’s as much professional as it is personal — all are hearing impaired.
DAAD was launched four months ago and has already developed 20 videos in sign language, most of which explain basic tools such as Photoshop, and skills like video-editing.
According to CEO Remya Raj (36), who worked as a business analyst earlier, DAAD is a solution to the problems she faced while trying to get a technical education.
“Despite graduating in Economics, I found it difficult to get a basic diploma in technical education. I’ve had this idea of setting up a firm for developing course content in sign language for the last two years. While engaging with others in our community, I found the partners for the new venture. With support from the Kerala Start-up Mission, we launched DAAD in November,’’ says Remya, with the help of Priya Raj who works in the firm as an interpreter.
Apart from the CEO, the women leading DAAD’s foray are Sulu A Noushad (26), the finance director, Archana Krishnan (25), a graduate in fine arts, and Priya Aneesh (28), a commerce graduate. Aneesh, also a graduate, is the only male employee.
Remya Raj’s husband Sajith Surendran and Sulu’s husband Aneesh Kukko are employed in other firms, but are members of the DAAD’s board of directors.
“During our interactions with others who are hearing impaired, we realised that our community is struggling to learn IT skills to get a job. Most of us have studied in general educational institutions where we had little help to learn using sign language,” says Remya.
“We will develop videos for learning with sign language and subtitles. We are targeting members of our community in the age group of 18-35 who are looking to learn IT tools through sign language,’’ she says.
Remya has invested Rs 3 lakh in the venture with the Start-up Mission committing to infuse Rs 6 lakh in a phased manner. Sulu says the firm has already used sign language in a video game into sign language for an American company.
According to Kerala Start-up Mission business manager Prajeeth Prabhakaran, DAAD is “unique in every respect”.
“In the state’s start-up ecosystem, we don’t have such innovative ventures to address the learning requirements of a niche audience. They have also proved that hearing impairment is not an obstacle to run a venture. Within a few months into the launch, the firm has got an American client. They are getting a lot of support and advice from the Mission,’’ he says.
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