From Bhopal to Berlin – breaking walls for the hearing impaired

As part of a trip organised by the Bhopal chapter of the Rotaract Club International in 2012, Harshita Jhavar visited a school for deaf students. Jhavar was so moved at seeing the plight of the hearing impaired that she was overcome with a desire to do something for them.

“I found that the hearings impaired are as intelligent and talented as people without disabilities, but they can’t harness their potential because of their disability and lack of resources,” Jhavar, a fourth-year engineering student at Maulana Azad National Institute of Technology, Bhopal, said on the sidelines of the Falling Walls Lab  2014.

For the past three years, Jhavar has been hard at work on a software that translates sounds into sign language animation. So, if I were to say or feed “I attended the Falling Wall Conference” into a microphone connected to a computer, the software would first convert the audio feed into text and then sign language animation will appear on the computer screen.

“This software will help the hearing impaired take up courses of their choice, be it in the sciences or the arts,” says 20- year-old Jhavar. “That opens up closed doors for 364 million hearing impaired worldwide.” The software can convert feeds from multiple languages.

This was Jhavar’s first visit to Berlin, and she says she was overwhelmed by the wealth of information at the Falling Walls. “It’s like getting a crash course in almost everything,” she says.

While she did not finish in top three, Jhavar is upbeat about her project. She is currently working on producing a prototype of the software. It is expected to be available for schools serving the hearing impaired in a year’s time.

There are minute differences between sign languages of different countries, and Jhavar’s effort is to integrated nuances of different sign languages across the globe.

Since her presentation yesterday, Jhavar has been approached by several researchers and marketers who work in the same area.

Jhavar is one of the two Indians to present at the Falling Walls. Debdatta Ray is the other Indian to present at Falling Walls Lab this year.

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