VOIS wearable tech for deaf people promises to end communication barriers
From accessing basic education facilities to finding suitable jobs, the challenges faced by people who are deaf and hard of hearing in India are many. The communication barriers they face leave many in the community marginalized and isolated.
Innovation holds the potential to bring them out of this corner. From online learning resources to apps that translate sign language into speech, technology holds out a lot of promise. Soon to hit the market is a new innovation called VOIS. It has been developed by a start-up called Sonant Technologies, and is likely to be launched in March 2019.
Abhinav Shekhar Vashistha of Sonant Technologies says the idea of developing the device was sparked off by the struggles faced by a deaf acquaintance.
During my childhood, I was close to a neighbour who was deaf and that is how I learned about the day-to-day struggles faced by deaf people. In the absence of a proper mode of communication, they are forced to stay isolated. I started working on "VOIS" as a hobby project. I tested the basic version of the device on my neighbour and he was excited to see a medium through which he can communicate with anyone. After this, I did a market research and realized the disadvantages deaf people face due to communication barriers. Presently there is no such technology available in the market to assist them. - Abhinav Shekhar Vashistha, Co-founder-CEO, Sonant Technologies
How VOIS works
Sonant Technologies claims it's USP lies in the fact that VOIS assists in speaking and listening. The Speaking aspect works through a pair of smart gloves with several 'touch points'. Each of these points represent a particular letter, word or sentence.
VOIS can be used for speaking in three distinct modes. The Sentence mode, where each spot stands for a frequently used sentence or phrase and can be customised by the user, the Word mode, where each spot stands for a regularly used word, and Full Language mode, where each touch spot corresponds to one alphabet or sound. When these spots are touched in a certain pattern, the desired sentence or word is spoken out through a smart wristband.
Under the Listening aspect, the speaker's voice is converted into corresponding text for the deaf user, which he or she can easily read from the screen on the smart wristband. There is also an Essential Alert system under which the deaf user is alerted when critical events or sounds occur, like alarms, a baby's cry or the ringing of a doorbell. This alert is given real-time.
VOIS can be used by any deaf person, regardless of age. Basic language skills are the only requirement.
Jor Singh from Jaipur is among those who has been using VOIS on a trial basis for over a month. He says it has changed his life in a good way.
"I have used it in different places, while traveling by bus, at work and to talk to friends. Previously I would often miss my stop because the conductor could not understand where I wanted to get off. Now the conductor is able to understand where I want to go. The display that comes up when hearing people talk is easy to understand as well. Earlier people would ignore me at the shop where I work, even cheat me. Now that has changed."
With a price range of Rs 15,000 to 20,000, VOIS could end up being above the reach of many low-income deaf people. This will be a major gap, one that Vashistha hopes to bridge with the help of government schemes like Assistance to Disabled Persons for Purchase / Fitting of Aids and Appliances (ADIP).
"Under the ADIP scheme, the government of India gives 100% financial support if any assistive device cost less than Rs 10,000 and Rs 10,000 plus 50% margin if cost is above that. With the help of ADIP scheme we can distribute our product to the deaf people of lower segment of our society at very low price."
He also hopes to enable greater access with the support of deaf NGOs and CSR funds.