Interview with Remya Raj, CEO, Digital Art Academy for Deaf
In this interview series, we feature four youngsters who came together and started a new venture. But what if the youngsters are all deaf? Two of them are women and two men and their interpreters. It is usually the stuff of feel – good movies, not of actual life until you hear the story of Digital Arts Academy for the Deaf (DAAD).
1. Please share with us some of the good work in assistive technology space that you have been helping organisations with?
DAAD is developing a unique web-based application for the deaf. The application focuses on providing online courses in the Indian Sign Language (ISL). Several other organisations offer ISL – based online courses and resources.
2. Please share with us what keeps you personally excited on this journey.
Our product is developed entirely by the deaf. We clearly understand the practical needs of the deaf, which the developers from the regular community may not realize. Our nuanced understanding reflects on the product, articulates Sulu, who is the youngest and seemingly the fastest among the four.
Abey explained more about the application. DAAD will offer online certificate courses on popular job- oriented computer topics, such as C++ programming and Adobe Photoshop. The videos and tutorials communicate in the ISL with subtitles in English. It will also provide basic ISL – awareness courses for both the deaf and the deaf community. He also talked about the plans to introduce an Artificial intelligence (AI) – based tool that translates. They have thrashed out a clear- cut business models as well. Remya outlined the ‘Freemium Model they intend to follow for some of the basic features which will be available for free, while the advanced courses will require a fee.
3. Origin of DAAD
Remya, after her graduation and marriage had worked in an IT Firm for some time as a Business Analyst.Her husband Sajith Surendranath is also deaf who worked as Senior Front-End Developer in Experion Technologies. It was then that she realized the barriers a deaf professional faces. According to her, being deaf is not a disability; just that the deaf can communicate in ISL only. If the society and corporate ecosystem accommodate the ISL more generously, the deaf can have much easier lives.
Remya’s stint with the IT firm triggered the entrepreneurial spark. It was not very clear then what exactly she was going to do. She was nurturing many ideas when she met Sulu. Sulu’s mother is also a deaf arts Teacher working at CSI Higher Secondary School for the Partially Hearing, in Adoor. Remya met Sulu’s mother through some mutual contacts and that’s how Remya got introduced to Sulu.
Remya’s husband introduced Abey to them. They all had this burning desire to change the deep-rooted societal prejudices about the deaf. Abey states with absolute conviction.
“Hearing people hear with their ears. The deaf hear with eyes. That is the only difference. The deaf do not have any disability.”
4. Would you like to share key developments in Kerala Startup Mission that would go a long way in enabling the disabled?
It is not easy to get entry into Kerala Startup Mission’s incubation program at Technopark. First, you need to have a product. Startup that offer services are not entertained much. Then there are procedural hurdles and the need to stand out in a crowd of extremely teach-savvy wannabe entrepreneurs.
Vignesh KSUM says” DAAD is a vibrant and dedicated working team with multiple domain expertise. KSUM appreciates their efforts in doing this initiative for the community. It was a great time to work with DAAD team in Kozhikode. We wish them all the success in their startup journey and in future”
AjayanKavingal, immediate Past President Calicut Management Association (CMA) says- ”DAAD is an amazing bunch of promising youngsters who have taken on challenges and proved nothing can clip their wings. As ‘insiders’, they have clarity about the needs and address them most authentically to help the challenged lead a full life. Great human beings are an asset to the society. I am happy that I could interact with this vibrant group and follow them regularly. I wish them all the best.”
Arun G, assistant Manager at the incubation Centre, says “We always look at the team first and the fire they have. Only then we look at the idea. The team at DAAD is passionate about their causes. We can give a five star to them”.
The DAAD team took time to convince people and cross the procedural hurdles. They applied to startup Mission in 2016, after reading a news report about the facility. It took them three years to clinch a berth. In December 2018, they entered the incubation programmer. They received an initial grant of RS.100,000/- from Kerala Startup Mission as well. The incubation program is more like a co- working space where several startups in inhabit under a single rood. Apart from the programmer and the interpreter, all the employees in DAAD are deaf. (The founders wanted to have a deaf programmer as well but could not find a suitable one. So, communicating with founders and employees of another startup was bit difficult initially.
Startup Mission took the initiative here to bridge the communication gap. Sreekutty OU, the IEDC Coordinator in the Startup Mission,remembered:” we conducted a meeting session of all the employees and founders of other Startup and made them aware of the sign language. It solved the problem of communication gap to an extent”.
5. What is in DAAD’s Store for Future?
For all Startup, the question of survival is inevitable. A study by IBM institute for Business Value and Oxford Economics in 2018 revealed that 90% of Indian startup failin the first five years. How is DAAD gearing up for the survival challenge? Sreekutty has high hopes on DAAD. She cited the example of Remya.
6. What role do you think is www.getmeenable.com online store playing in the space of accessibility?
The assistive technology market in India is scattered and informal. There is a dearth of information and there are hardly any organized players which can address this customer segment.
Getmeenabled here organizes the market for assistive aids and connects the vendors to the buyers. As an online marketplace, it would be easy to access and allow the customers to explore various options suited to their needs. It could serve as a feedback channel for the product vendors to understand what the customer wants and do product improvements. It would also create an opportunity for innovation in the Indian market as there is a high dependency on foreign assistive aids where a cheaper alternate technology is not available in the India market.