Imagine you are walking through the streets of Nairobi. The cars are hooting, loud music blaring from speakers of the matatus or mobile shops. A man is preaching from the Bible. Nairobi might be one of the loudest cities in the world. But for you, everything is quiet. A woman approaches you, talks to you, pointing at a direction. But you can´t understand her, because you simple can´t hear her.
“There are about 800.000 Deaf people or even more living in Kenya”, says Hudson, founder of Deaf ELimu Plus and responsible for the whole software development and video editing. Together with Alfred and Dorothee, he established an online platform for Kenyans, who need to learn sign language. For Deaf people, interpreters or people who simply want to learn the language. But I was wondering: Why in fact an online platform especially for Kenya? Isn´t there a universal spoken sign language, that is used everywhere in the world? “When you speak Swahili in France, people will not understand you. Same goes for sign language”, says Alfred, who is doing the research and content development. “One symbol in Kenya can have a different meaning in Uganda, in Tanzania or in Rwanda”.
Deaf ELimu: One sign per video
The team started with an online dictionary called Kenya Sign Language Online Plus, which gives you an introduction to sign language. You learn greetings and basic stuff like food, family or days of the week. Another app is ABC fingerspelling. Yes, you are right, it contains the sign language alphabet. And some interesting features like a quiz.
But the most recent project is called Deaf Elimu with the focus on sign language dealing with sexual and reproductive health.
In Kenya, there has always been a lack of resources regarding sign language. But for SRHR there is really nothing. So Hudson, Alfred and Dorothee collected all the information, made a lot of research and even had to create new signs, that were not existing before. For the word syphilis for example, there was no sign existing. So they had to do some research and basically invent a new sign for syphilis. “That is our biggest challenge”, says Alfred. “It´s not just that we have to come up with a new word. The Deaf community also needs to accept it. And that takes quite some time.”
Before that, we had books in Kenya, DVDs. On a very basic level. But Deaf ELimu is a new step for Deaf in Kenya. The sign for condom in the Netherlands for example is completely different from the sign in Kenya.
The functionality is simple. You open the app. Choose your term, you want to learn. And tap on the video where the team is giving you the right sign in video.
In future the team also wants to include other topics than sexual and reproductive health, like mathematics, chemistry or social science and like them to be in the app. “We want to create opportunities. Unlike us, who did not have the opportunities, when have been to school”, says Hudson.
How to market and to sustain DeafElimu
The marketing for that app targeting the Deaf is easier than you might think. Thanks to the digitalization of our world, people are connecting with each other on Whatsapp- or Facebookgroups. It has now become a lot easier to get to know other Deaf people and communicate with each other. And these apps are of a great interest for all of them.
Hudson and Alfred say that there have been major changes in the last years due to different programs. Especially for parents, teachers and health personnel, who simply couldn´t understand children for instance, who were relying on their help, to progress in life. Also the fact that there are sign language interpreters in the news shows, that they recognize their Deaf audience.
The dictionary also serves another important purpose, just like every other dictionary: If a nurse, for instance, goes to class learning sign language, after three months, she may have forgotten some of the signs. Now, they can refer to the up and always look the signs up.
They are now working on topics and full stories, to give Deaf whole explanations and examples on several issues. There is also a list of hospitals that are specialized on dealing with sign language. “We would love the have more people on board, to implement signs much faster”, says Hudson.
To achieve that, they have identified three possible sources of income. They are using subscriptions, adverts for videos and want to reach out to sponsors and businesses who are willing to contribute to the app. Because they want to make sure, that the app remains free of charge for the Deaf.