After attending a conference hosted by the UAE Deaf Association where they were exposed to members’ challenges such as access to education and employment opportunities, a group of students from the Canadian University of Dubai decided to make use of technology for social good. They put their plans in motion by participating in the Ripples of Happiness (ROH) program in January 2016, following which the team designed a mobile application Efhamni (Arabic for “Understand Me”), which teaches Emirati sign language. Nérimel Bessa, co-founder, Efhamni, says the app was created with the intention to promote a more inclusive society. “Emirati sign language is only five years old, and there are only two institutions that are teaching the language,” Bessa says. “Consequently, there are few people who have mastered the language, and this limits communication, education and employment opportunities for the deaf.”
Hailing from different countries and different majors in the University, the 17-member Efhamni team counts diversity as their strength and hopes to make communication less burdensome for the deaf community by hosting video lessons of Emirati sign language with Arabic and English subtitles. Interestingly, the videos feature Emirati sign language specialists, who possess hearing difficulties themselves, who teach the signals for words and sentences. As an additional feature, English speakers can also learn to pronounce Arabic words as one can also hear the word in Arabic. Supported by mentors from the University and outside, and with AED 1,800 handed to them by Injaz UAE and The Coca Cola Foundation during the ROH program, the team was able to come up with a working design in just six weeks and also came in second place at the challenge, winning US$7,000 in grants to grow the company.
The student team has been able to record 30 videos so far and with 70+ downloads from across Egypt, Oman, Germany, US, France, and Saudi Arabia, the app, available on iOS and Android, has gained over 1,600 followers across their social media channels and has “made impressions” on over 10,000 Twitter users. “Before we started this project, we imagined the UAE as the only area that could benefit from this project,” Bessa explains. “Now we realize the possibility of improving the communities in all Arabic speaking countries. This way we hope to transform the lives of 11.2 million deaf people in all Arabic speaking countries, the same way we are transforming our community here in the UAE.” With the determination to take Efhamni beyond a college project, the team is keen to improve features by working closely with sign language specialists and linguists and also focus on getting their message across far and wide, through marketing efforts.