The world is a diverse place, so it is crucial to ensure that everyone has the same access to information and opportunities.
For some, even the most simple things, such as communication, can be a challenge. Even with the technology available today, hearing-impaired people face various obstacles when it comes to spoken and written language. Luckily, artificial intelligence is here to help.
Our guest today explains how the new technology can reduce the communication gap between a hearing person and a hearing-impaired individual, ensuring accessibility for everyone. To talk about how technology can revolutionize accessibility, Cybernews sat down with Ronaldo Tenório, CEO of Hand Talk – a sign language translator app that translates spoken and written content.
How did the idea of Hand Talk originate? What has your journey been like?
I have been an entrepreneur since I was 17 years old, and since then I have always been trying to connect the dots. It just so happened that I had two different majors while in college: technology and communications, and it was in one of those that I decided to indeed connect those dots and leave these legacies for the world.
The idea originated during a college project in 2008. Four years later I got together with Carlos and Thadeu to put it in motion, and we submitted our creation to a startup challenge, from which we emerged victorious. After that, we experienced a series of award wins, such as the Best Social App in the World in 2013, handed by the UN at the World Summit Mobile Award, in Abu-Dhabi.
I could say that, just like any startup, we have been through many moments of volatility, in which we were one step from failure and one step from success. In the last few years, this volatility has decreased, and we have managed to conquer our space and grow with scale. It was when we were able to stabilize, reach approximately 100 employees, and have our company present in Brazil and the US.
Can you introduce us to your sign language translation platform? What are its key features?
We offer two solutions: the Hand Talk App and the Hand Talk Plugin.
The Hand Talk App works as a sort of Google Translator for Sign Languages. You speak or type in the words you want, and Hugo or Maya, our virtual 3D translators, will translate it for you. Also, in the app, we have a section in which people can learn their first signs with educational tools. It is available in Libras (Brazilian Sign Language) and ASL (American Sign Language). This is our B2C solution.
On the other hand, the Hand Talk Plugin is our corporate tool, working in the B2B2C model. Currently, it is present on almost 1 thousand websites in Brazil, and soon we will launch it for websites in English.
What would you say are the main challenges that hearing-impaired people face nowadays?
First of all, the lack of access to information in the native language of most deaf people. In other words, in Sign Language. Many people believe that having an accessible text is enough, but a big part of the deaf community relies on Sign Language to obtain information since the majority of them are not even alphabetized in written languages.
Secondly, the problem starts at home, with children and parents that many times do not even communicate using the same language. Then, when the deaf person moves out, they face an even bigger barrier, making them live as foreigners in their own country.
How did the recent global events affect your field of work? Were there any new challenges you had to adapt to?
In regard to the pandemic, many corporations began working remotely. This created even more web barriers that were not noticed before because companies were interacting with deaf people in person. So a series of web adaptations were required in order to make digital environments more accessible. In a certain way, it accelerated companies’ digitalization and search for accessibility since the internet was invisible to many of them. Today they know that having a digital accessibility tool is important so that employees can have fuller communication without barriers.
Since well-being is your main field of focus, how do you think this sector is going to evolve in the upcoming years?
I believe that evolution comes from people’s and organizations’ understanding that the world is diverse and it needs to be accessible to all. Many times companies fight over small market portions and forget about the diversity in the world. Adaptations to your communication, structure, and product for diversity are now a competitive advantage, not philanthropy.
What tips would you give to companies looking to make their environments more accessible and diverse?
First, have diverse people in your teams. Familiarity with diversity makes us think way beyond our environment. It makes us generate more communication, solutions, and opportunities for diverse people that are outside of your company since you have internal representativeness.
Second, take the first step and take one step at a time. It is very hard for an organization to be 100% accessible, but going from 0% to 1% and then 2% makes the journey easier since you are always making progress. So, begin with simple actions and have diverse people inside the companies.
In this age of ever-evolving technology, what do you think are the key security practices both businesses and individuals should adopt?
I believe that when we shop online, we do not know who is on the other side of the screen, so we end up falling into bugs and security problems. So my advice for individuals is: we must investigate better from who we are buying and handing over our personal information to understand if the organization on the other side is trustworthy. Now my advice for companies is to be very careful with using such information we acquire from users so this data is used responsibly.
What other aspects of our daily lives do you hope to see improved by new advancements in technology?
I believe that we have had many advancements in urban mobility, but there is still a lot of space for progress to make our lives more practical. Also, there have been great advancements in waste reduction. We create a lot of waste on a daily basis. There are technological ways to consume fewer products that produce more waste and to better manage this waste disposal that negatively affects our planet. Lastly, technology improved education, especially financial education. Mainly in developing countries, there is still little access to financial education beginning in early childhood, and it is important for people to learn about it early on and achieve their financial independence as soon as possible.
Tell us, what’s next for Hand Talk?
We have been working really hard on a movement recognition technology to be able to perform our translation in the inverse path. Today we translate from written and oral languages to Sign Languages, and we are working towards translating from Sign Languages to written and oral languages. Technology has greatly advanced over the last year, which provided us with significant advancements in this technology, which will soon be launched to the world.
Besides, Hand Talk is also expanding our tool to other Sign Languages. Soon we will expand our plugin’s performance for websites in English for ASL translation.