When Kenya reported its first Covid-19 case in 2020, many firms embraced digital solutions to reach customers after the Government introduced tough lockdown measures.
Some of the stringent actions were movement restrictions, working from home and social distancing.
As employees worked from their homes, demand for digital services such as e-commerce, telemedicine, e-learning, online deliveries, among others, went up.
Whereas these solutions enabled seamless delivery of services to customers, people with hearing problems could not use them as a majority of them did not offer sign language interpretations.
For Luke Kizito and Ojiambo Muleka, however, their missions were to bridge communication barriers for the deaf and those with hearing impairments through a new application.
So, in 2020, they started assistALL, a sign language interpretation mobile app to facilitate with the click of a button communications between deaf people with businesses, banks, employers, hospitals, among others.
“It (assitALL) is a combination of words ‘assistive platform for all’ as it connects sign language interpreters with businesses, employers, banks, hospitals, among others, when serving the deaf,” Mr Kizito tells Digital magazine.
The platform operates on per second billing. Users can deposit money into interpreters’ wallets using M-Pesa, visa or PayPal before receiving interpretation services virtually.
“Interpreter downloads the app when on data, select language and country, register details to create a profile and specialisation (area good for your interpretation),” Mr Kizito says.
When on data and selected/dialed, a video call will be generated where you will sign for the deaf and voice for the users. At the end of the call you get paid equivalent to time spent on the call.”
The app, which is available on android devices, targets interpreters, the deaf, businesses, government and the community, among others.
The company has employed seven individuals directly on the project. However, it plans to employ 500 interpreters on the app.
A sign language interpreter plays a crucial role in the life of people with hearing challenges.
In Kenya, for example, there are about 500 qualified sign language interpreters serving the needs of over 260,000 people with hearing impairments.
Interpreters are mainly located in urban areas and the high cost of the services make them unattainable for low income and rural populations.
Due to this disparity, most people with hearing impairments are often unable to access essential services without the help of relatives or friends to communicate on their behalf.
Mr Kizito says the platform addresses the logistical challenges of walking with an interpreter from point A to B.
“And also the cost is very low, as low as Sh30 per minute and one interpreter can serve many deaf people at the comfort of his/her homes,” he says
They source customers through direct marketing to users as well as encourage downloads. They now boost over 400 downloads.
“For assistALL plans to grow in Africa and beyond and also develop a visually impaired modulel,” he notes
They have received funding from United Nations Development Programme Kenya (UNDP-K) through disability innovation challenge. They have also received funding from the GSMA innovation fund.
Mr Kizito also owns Signs Media Kenya Limited. The firm, which was started in 2011, operates on a social enterprise model with the main objectives being to educate, inform and entertain in sign language by extension enhancing disability and the deaf culture.
“In 2015 we applied to the Communication Authority of Kenya to run a television station broadcasting in sign language and were granted; we are now broadcasting effective February 2017 on free to air platform as Signs TV and offer publicity in terms of advertisements, documentaries and general partnerships to organizations at very affordable rates.”
One of the challenges that they face is that many businesses have not embraced inclusion as a business strategy.