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#InclusionChamps: Bleetech’s human-centric approach wins them Universal Design Award 2019

Bleetech Pvt Ltd's design solutions are empowering India's deaf and hard of hearing community is more ways than one can imagine, winning them the Universal Design Awards 2019.

From a watch that listens for emergency sounds to a WhatsApp number that answers queries in Indian sign language, to fun videos that promote and enable inclusion, Bleetech Pvt Ltd. has come up with truly unique and innovative design solutions to empower India's deaf and hard of hearing community.

This is no small achievement given the enormous barriers the community faces in India when it comes to accessing education and employment opportunities most take for granted. Bleetech reaches out to over 10,000 deaf and hard of hearing people across 15 states, making them worthy of the NCPEDP MPHASIS Universal Design Award 2019.

And to think that all this was triggered by a show by deaf dancers in 2014. Watching the show, Bleetech co-founder Janhavi Joshi, a classical dancer and designer, came up with the idea of developing a device that would enable deaf people to dance without having to depend on someone to give them visual cues and counts.

Janhavi teamed up with close friend and fellow designer Nupura Kirloskar to develop a wearable band that would help deaf people understand music and experience rhythm through vibrations as a college project. That journey eventually led to BleeTV, an app that gives users access to content that they understand fully in Indian Sign Language (ISL). It claims to be the only digital platform where the deaf community can access information, education, and entertainment, and offers content ranging from English learning, financial literacy, entertainment, general knowledge and much more.

When we did our research among the deaf community, we found that their senses of touch and vision are very advanced. They would touch the floors and the walls to feel the vibrations. That gave us the answer, to use the sense of touch. After many prototypes we came up with the wearable band to help dancers feel vibrations. We realized that we could use this in many different concepts and we expanded it to cater to the entire deaf community. - Janhavi Joshi, Co-founder, Bleetech Pvt Ltd.

This was followed by BleeWatch for people who are deaf and hard of hearing. The watch can record sounds like a doorbell, fire alarm, or a pressure cooker whistle into a connected app. This is notified to the wearer through a set of specific vibration patterns and colours. The watch can also send a help signal to five emergency numbers.

BleeTV was launched as an app in July 2018 and today has users from across India. The accessible content makes it a winner. Vinay Pathak, a teacher in Hathras, Uttar Pradesh, uses it for lessons in vocabulary and English language. "Earlier, we would have to travel to far distances to access training centres. Thanks to BleeTV, we get useful information that is of benefit to the deaf community".

Hyderabad student Gattu Anil Kumar says his knowledge levels have improved after using BleeTV. "They have answers for questions in any topic and I have improved my knowledge levels a lot. I have been watching it for a year now and I feel more informed about many topics. It has made me confident and outgoing".

"As a brand, we have always believed in building communities around our product and that's what led us to connect with our users on a personal level", says Janhavi. Clearly, it is this sense of community and partnership the brand is building that makes them such a winner.


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