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Milestone achieved: Pakistani startup wins young innovators award for developing sign language app

  • In 2017, Azima Dhanjee and Arhum Ishtiaq created ConnectHear and developed an application to help deaf persons remotely connect with an interpreter
  • So far, ConnectHear has provided 100,000+ minutes of sign language interpretation and trained over 700 people in sign language
Published March 29, 2021

(Karachi) ConnectHear, a Pakistani startup, has won this year's World Summit Awards (WSA) for introducing a smartphone app that offers virtual sign language interpreters to persons with hearing loss, Arab News reported.

The WSA for young innovators recognizes people under 26 years of age who make use of digital technology to take action on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

In 2017, Azima Dhanjee and Arhum Ishtiaq created ConnectHear and developed an application to help deaf persons remotely connect with an interpreter.

Struggle pays off

Expressing views on winning the award, Arhum Ishtiaq said: "I believe it is our continuous innovation that helped us win this award. We were hopeful that this time they would recognize our struggle and consistent work for the community." He added that they had been applying for the award since 2019.

"Once they announced ConnectHear as the global winner, my mom hugged me tightly as I was screaming," Dhanjee said. She stated that her deaf parents inspired the creation of the app.

"My parents were my inspiration towards this idea. Growing up I never felt my parents were different as we led a very normal life just like my friend’s families did. But once my schooling started and I interacted with more people, I realized how quickly people would stare at us at hospitals, parent-teacher meetings, malls, just because we would talk to each other in sign language," she said.

"I met so many deaf families over there who were struggling with the same challenge. There were people with all deaf family members who had to rely on external support for simplest tasks," Dhanjee said.

"People would ask us why we don’t do anything to fix our parents as if there was something wrong with them."

The beginning

Shedding light on starting the new firm, Ishtiaq said initially they created a Facebook page to teach sign language. However, the idea of developing the interactive tool came up when a deaf person sought help with obtaining a credit card.

“One day, a deaf individual from Gujranwala requested us to interpret for them as they were struggling to get a bank debit card because the manager could not understand him," Ishtiaq said.

"We were confused as to how to serve there while being in Karachi. He told us to connect over WhatsApp video call and we did. Our interpretation went smoothly, and the deaf person was able to get the debit card within two weeks. We then firmly decided to work on more avenues to solve the issues faced by the deaf community."

Helpful and interactive tool

So far, ConnectHear has provided 100,000+ minutes of sign language interpretation, made 600+ videos that were viewed more than 2 million times, and trained over 700 people in sign language.

"Through our application, we will now provide the ability for any deaf person to gain independence by just a single tap of a button on their smartphones," Ishtiaq said. "We are especially pushing it towards corporations so that no deaf person hesitates before walking into a bank, hospital, or other public/private spaces."

Another gap they want to fill is in the world of information. They became aware of it especially in the wake of the pandemic.

"Deaf community was not informed about any of COVID SOPs or regulation due to this gap in our media industry," Ishtiaq said. "We run our infotainment channel on YouTube intending to keep deaf individuals equally informed."

"It makes me happier when I see more family and friends of the Deaf getting inspired by ConnectHear and taking a step to become a part of our team," she stated.


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