There are over 18 million deaf people in India and most are illiterate with no easy way to communicate with the outside world. SignAble is revolutionising accessibility in India with a mobile application that is, in essence “An interpreter in your pocket” for deaf people. With it, the deaf can be included in all communication – in their homes with their family and friends, in public spaces such as shops, hospitals and government agencies and in the workplace with managers and colleagues. The app provides on-demand access to live interpreters in 16 Indian languages. It has been built with significant input from the deaf community to overcome illiteracy barriers and obstacles to seamless communication between the deaf and hearing.

The SignAble app allows a deaf user to make a mobile-based call to a hearing person. To facilitate that conversation, a deaf person initiates a call via the SignAble app. They are then connected to a SignAble interpreter on the app. The interpreter converses in speech to initiate the conversation with the hearing person. During the course of the call, the interpreter enables communication both ways, in Sign Language with the deaf user via video link and an audio call with the hearing person.  

This app is a powerful diversity, equity and inclusion tool for companies employing deaf people to facilitate recruitment, onboarding and team communication is already functioning at scale. The new Museum of Art and Photography (MAP) in Bangalore is also using SignAble to fulfil Abhishek Poddar’s ambition to be one of the most accessible museums in the world.  

About SignAble Communications
SignAble Communications is an award-winning start-up that provides live interpretation service in Indian Sign Language in 16 languages to enable the deaf and hearing to communicate via the mobile phone. This solution is a game-changer that has been tested and validated with over 17,000 active users and a large enterprise client. See www.signable.live for further details.

Background and History:
The idea of including disabled people in the workforce was championed in the 90s following the introduction of the 1995 Act on Disability. Many organisations championed the cause and a large number of NGOs in India working on training and skilling disabled persons were catapulted into the limelight for the work they had been doing in this area. By 2000, the recruitment wave began with corporates and ‘BPOs’ exploring the possibility of hiring disabled persons. There were a lot of hurdles to overcome and access was a critical one. Physical access was the first to be addressed and many saw it as being an expensive exercise to create access for mobility impaired persons who used wheel chairs, for example. The next stage was a drive to train and support blind persons to use screen reading software enabling them to work on a computer efficiently and thus be a part of the workplace.

Deaf people in India have traditionally had far less access to education since the only education provided is itself inaccessible to them and the process of education is simply learning by rote. Verbal skills, both spoken and written have always been a great challenge. Initially, those with good oral skills and low hearing loss were hired. Then when companies realised that deaf people are mostly healthy individuals who have no need for physical access support, they were hired in jobs where language did not play a great role. Manual labour such as housekeeping, laundry in hotels, packing and shipping in other industries seemed to be the order of the day. A few who had computer skills were also hired as data entry operators by BPOs and were taught processes 1 by 1 in their workplace. It says a lot for the tenacity of these early hires that they were able to work and learn how to adjust to their employers and colleagues without access to clear and efficient communications.

The reality is that their career growth in these companies has been stunted and their access needs are far from being met. The scenario has now changed and the deaf are beginning to get access to higher education. The RPWD Act of 2016 mandates access for all and so many are going to college and earning degrees and expect to be able to progress in a career rather than just stagnate and do a repetitive job for 20 years.

Although the provision of interpreters is now mandated in workplaces, compliance is poor because there is a dearth of interpreters. Employers expect high quality interpretation that the training institutions cannot seem to provide either the quality or the quantity required.

“The lack of quality ISL interpreters is a burning issue and SignAble has ambitious plans to combat this in its drive for seamless communication between the deaf and hearing”