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“Not Knowing a Language is What Makes you Deaf”: Lamek

By Luwam Kahsay H.

With a view to addressing the difficulties people with hearing disability face in getting public services, Lamek Ruusom, Bereket W/ Michael and Simon Mehari created an app. called “Hear the Deaf,” which won the Total Energy national competition. Lamek works at Mussa Ali Construction Company, Bereket at Eritrean Naval Force and Simon at Eritrean Crop and Livestock Corporation. Today’s guest is Lamek, representing the trio.

  • Tell us about the award you have won.

Recently we’ve won the “under three years Start Upper Business 3rd edition-2022” organized and sponsored by Total Energy company. Our application aims to benefit the society, in general, but more specifically people with hearing disabilities.

To do this we sought the collaboration of the Association for the Deaf and some other parties. In 2019, with our project, we won the invention and modification competition at the festival in Expo. We also participated at UNDP’s conference on Natural Language Processing (NLP) focusing on the development of Tigrigna language through voice recognition, which made a contribution toward the development of a Tigrigna corpus.

  • How did your project become a winner?

Based on its feasibility — technically and financially — and its social impact. It is a simple and affordable application software that can be shared, and it makes the daily life of people with hearing disability easy. Unlike the other projects ours was the only one that met one of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals on education, which has the biggest role in the development of a nation.

  • Did you expect to win?

There were some amazing projects at the competition, but, to be honest, we did expect to win. And when our expectation turned out to be real we were proud of our achievement and understood that this was only the beginning and that more is yet to come regardless of the challenges we may face.

  • What challenges have you had?

We believe that information is power. But this power can’t be had without access to information. At the beginning of the project we lacked information due to low connectivity of the Internet and lacked experience as there hadn’t been similar projects done that we could have learned from. At times we had to work until three in the morning to have better access to the Internet when there weren’t many users. Also, as our project requires Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning types of technology we needed specific types of laptops and cameras such as Kinect that can perfectly process the image and camera. Thanks to friends living abroad we were able to get the camera. Generally, our difficulties have been reduced since our collaboration began with the National Union of Eritrean Youth and Students.

Our biggest problem now is that we aren’t able to follow our plan as needed because my colleagues are tied up at their workplaces. We meet very rarely, and this is causing delays in completing tasks at the desired times.

  • What benefits have you got by working on the project?

The major benefit I have got working on the project is that I am working in my field and expanding my knowledge. I am also glad to meet a community of respectful and reliable people who encourage you to do your best. I have learned an additional language, a sign language, which made me realize that somehow we, too, have hearing disabilities. Not knowing a language is what makes you deaf. Just because you can hear doesn’t mean you can communicate well.

  • Is sign language easy to learn?

Surprisingly, it is. But to be mastered it has to be practiced often just like other languages. It requires concentration and patience. Once you learn to use it and become fluent, you start using it spontaneously, and it comes in handy especially in noisy places.

  • Tell us about your future plans.

Our short-term plan is to create a platform where everyone can communicate easily by not only using the app. as reference but studying it as an additional language in an easy way.

And our long-term plan is to include the sign language in all Eritrean languages. At the moment it is available only in Tigrigna. We also would like to make it available in all public places, especially schools.
If we find a stable platform we intend to develop the app. to an international status that can translate the American sign language into Eritrean ones and vice versa.

  • Any other message you would like to deliver …

We believe that inventors should be encouraged and given special attention to achieve their goals. We seek the collaboration of institutions and call upon the society to be thoughtful in interacting with people with disability because we sometimes, intentionally or unintentionally, alienate them.

We welcome anyone who would like to contribute, in any way, towards the growth of the application. Thank you.

  • Thank you for your time.

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