18-year-old Mumbai girl creates an app to help the differently abled communities across the gloabe
Zoe Kothari, an 18-year-old, 12th-grade student has come up with a special platform called ZIAI, a resourceful app for the disabled community and for nondisabled individuals looking to be allies.
In 2019, Zoe met with a major accident in her school which resulted in 5 broken bones, a punctured lung, and a head injury. She was bedridden for 6 weeks while she had to go through intense physiotherapy to rebuild the muscles of her leg, which were completely gone. Her experience resulted in physical, neurological, and psychological trauma, plus a realization that her life would have been so much harder without a fully able body in the long term. She was lucky to have made a quick recovery, but she still struggle with chronic pain, and as a student, she was trying to perform at an equitable level with her peers.
She felt that she was lucky to be surrounded by support from her friends, family, and her teachers. But at the same time, she faced ableism (discrimination in favor of able-bodied people, or against disabled people). Comments about her focus, her strength, her inability to relax, and overall, kept her life in a state of unpredictability as to how people would react when she had flare-ups and couldn’t handle something that would be expected from a healthy student. She was subject to ableist policies at her residential school, she lost friends as she could not do outdoor activities with them, and she had to end her college term a month early from the extreme pain topped off with the anxiety of having to justify it.
She realized that she was fortunate enough that with the right treatments and physical therapy she would be able to recover. Despite the difficulties, she recognized her incredible privilege that this was only a temporary reality, and she wanted to help people for whom it isn’t. Every aspect of the problem comes from a clear source, a lack of understanding of the issues faced by differently-abled people and therefore a lack of empathy. Many people who behave in casually “ableist” ways don’t mean to, they simply don’t know they’re being insensitive with their language or assumptions. Hence she decided to do something about it and therefore last summer, she worked on building a platform for the disabled community and nondisabled individuals looking to be allies called ZIAI (Zoe’s Inclusive AI).
ZIAI is an AI bot designed to help users apply for accessible jobs, create inclusive institutions, learn about laws that protect disabled citizens and work on themselves to be better allies. The AI is accompanied by an information page, where people can interactively work on making inclusive language a habit, read about supporting disabled loved ones, see data on ableism, and more. Primarily, ZIAI aims to create empathy, awareness, and understanding. Some simple examples of how this app helps to correct and improve their empathy levels are suggesting contextually appropriate substitutes for ableist colloquial language like ‘crazy’ or ‘retarded’.
The app is now translated into 9 languages – Hindi, Gujarati, Marathi, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Punjabi, Odia, and English and has been used by more than 100,000 people since its launch.
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