Giving sign language a voice

Entrepreneur Mohamed Elwazer's invention helps the hearing-impaired be heard

Giving sign language a voice

Inspired by a group of kids playing Xbox games in a mall in Egypt, and their interaction with the sensors and screens that went with it, 26-year-old computer systems engineer Mohamed Elwazer created a device to change the way deaf and hearing-impaired people communicate.

KinTrans ‘Hands can talk,’ uses algorithms and sensors that translate sign language into audio. ‘I told myself that instead of becoming a character inside a game, I could create an engine that can explain what this movement is. So I started working on it,’ he says. Mohamed now has a team of executives working with him to develop the technology and raise funds to move the project forward. His team have been advancing the technology for two years in Dubai. They have worked with charitable organisations including Mawaheb from Beautiful People to test the functionality of the product and they have received a positive response. ‘The reaction from the CEO of Mawaheb was fantastic,’ he says. ‘Mawaheb believes that KinTrans will be the future of sign language and body movement translation all around the world. Victor, [one of the centre’s deaf artists who tested the device] smiled a kind of smile that said, “Finally, all my problems have been solved”.’

Growing up with hearing-impaired friends, Mohamed has long felt a need to support the deaf community and empathises with the challenges they face. Before developing KinTrans, Mohamed set up a digital security systems company, but despite its success, it didn’t satisfy his deep-rooted desire to serve the community. ‘My main motivation is to help others and I was getting the business but I didn’t feel like I was helping, so I closed that operation and opened KinTrans,’ he explains. ‘I remember some kids tried to speak to a police officer in sign language and the officer couldn’t understand what they were saying. In the end, the officer left and nothing happened. I kept thinking about that, and it’s why we’re focused on emergency and public services such as airports, hospitals, customer service kiosks and malls.’

KinTrans has an obvious appeal, but Mohamed insists that business is business. ‘I’m helping the community though a sustainable enterprise, not through charity,’ he explains. ‘From my perspective, it’s a good proposition because it services a need. There are customers willing to pay for what we are doing, so at the end of the day, all the factors that will make it a successful business are there.’ Mohamed’s team have found that not all investors understand the benefit of creating a sustainable enterprise for the community. ‘We are aiming to raise US$700,000 [about Dhs2.6 million]. We’ve already raised US$75,000 [Dhs275,000] so we’re still looking for the remaining investment. We’re struggling to find investors who can help us in our approach, but we’re moving forward and we’ll keep searching until we find what we’re looking for.’

The future of KinTrans looks good; the company already has plans for its next stage of development. ‘The second step is to create a mobile app, so if a deaf or hearing-impaired person makes a call for a delivery or calls an ambulance, they can sign to the phone,’ he enthuses.

Mohamed is realistic about the investment challenges his business faces, but with plans to run a project with Dubai Government next month, he is undeterred. He seems, at least, to be getting all the right signs from the public sector.

More services for the hearing-impaired

American Sign Language course
Those who want to improve their communication with the deaf and hearing impaired can take this 30-hour course at Eton Institute.
From Dhs1,500. (04 438 6800).

Dubai Centre for Special Needs
A team of speech and language therapists at this centre can help to diagnose speech and hearing impediments and provide support for families. (04 344 0966).

Al Amal School for Deaf Students
Based in Sharjah, this dedicated school takes students from age two to 20, provides a full curriculum and promotes deaf awareness and the use of sign language. (06 566 0667).

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