This article is the first of a new "Meet our students" series that aims to present some of EHL students' extraordinary life experiences and adventures. Discover Irvan Sutiono's and Augustin Woronoff's, graduated Bachelor students, unique story.
According to the World Health Organization, there are over 360 million Deaf and Hard of Hearing people in the world; however only 2% were educated in sign language. The main reason is the difficulty of sign languages even more so as each country has its own sign language.
Until March 2016, sign language was banned in Indonesia, and this is still happening in many countries around the world. In Indonesia, Deaf kids were enjoined to speak and read lips, due to the government’s priority to make sure they fit a certain “norm”, while unfortunately ignoring their specific needs.
Rizky Ario, Chief Executive Officer at DreamBender Indonesia, witnessed first-hand his aunt going through this horrifying experience. He came up with Isara as a project of his software house company, and along with a few other activists to record over 10,000 sign language videos in 9 different cities in Indonesia to compile the first Indonesian Sign Language dictionary. They then had the chance to meet with the Minister of Education and the President of Indonesia to fight for the recognition of sign language. The hard work led to the recognition of sign language as part of the Indonesian constitution.
In June 2016, Isara was accepted to MassChallenge CH. Rizky Ario was looking for an Indonesian with business background in the Lausanne area. He then found Irvan Sutiono, EHL student, on the Indonesian Student Association in Switzerland. The student then approached fellow EHL student Augustin Woronoff to collaborate on the project, as having a French-speaker would ease the integration of the project into the market.
“I personally did not have the chance to meet anyone from the Deaf community until I worked with Isara. My first encounter with a Deaf person was upon arrival at Zurich main train station. A volunteer approached us to help us navigate through the art festival that was going on at that time. Within a few seconds, I noticed that the volunteer’s speech was different; he was Deaf. His enthusiasm made me realize that if he could exhort all his might into helping me, I should do the same with the Deaf community.” explains Irvan Sutiono, EHL student and Isara collaborator.
Isara offers a platform that includes an open sign language learning application and an online sign interpreter service. The project started off 4 years ago when one of the co-founders began to compile the first and only Indonesian sign language dictionary, gathering over 10,000 videos of sign words by recording them individually across different cities of Indonesia. Isara just recently introduced an integrated way to learn sign language through its Mobile App which has 2 main features: Isara Learning and Isara Interpreter.
Isara Learning includes an online dictionary and interactive sign language courses, where people can learn sign language from scratch. In order to scale up, Isara created a community-powered engine called Isara Incubator, where the Deaf community can contribute to the course by editing and maintaining Isara Learning; this enables the communities to be in charge of the development of their language.
Isara Interpreter on the other hand is an on-demand interpreter service. It can be seen as ‘Uber for sign language interpreters". Through the app, one could be connected to an available interpreter through video calls, and they would act as a mediator between the user and their contact. The person would communicate in sign language to the interpreter who would translate the signs into verbal words. The contact would then reply in verbal words which would finally be translated back into sign language.
Technology is progressing rapidly, including towards those who aim to build a bridge between disabled people and the society. BeMyEyes, for instance, is an iPhone app that allows blind people to contact a network of sighted volunteers to help with live video chat.
To increase awareness about the project, the Isara team then started participating in different competitions and events, including University Startup World Cup and the GoodFestival. Since the project took off in August, they have managed to present Isara to numerous political key figures, such as Mary, Crown Princess of Denmark and Susan LeVine, US Ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein. Now that MassChallenge has concluded in November 2016, Isara has now relocated to Paris, where it’s developing the project under direct supervision by the French government through its French Tech Ticket program.