Indian doctor’s free app for hearing loss wins US award

Thursday 6 November

A doctor from the South Indian state of Kerala has developed a free app for the deaf which has been recognised and rewarded by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the US.

Dr Sharon Baisil, a medical doctor who was trained in the Government Medical College in Thrissur, Kerala, says Let ME Hear Again, is the combined result of his passion for technology and the empathy he felt for the deaf people in India who could not afford expensive tools for the rehabilitation of their disabilities. With the hopes of developing a low-cost, innovative method to assist people with hearing loss, the 29-year-old doctor from Kerala started working on the app in March 2014.

“Most deaf people are well-versed in sign language and comfortably converse with each other. The problem arises when they try to interact with individuals who can hear, and do not employ or know the sign language. Noticing the wide usage of WhatsApp among the deaf community, I decided that creating an android app would be the best solution,” Baisil told IB Times India.

Lacking any formal education in Java or android programming, Dr Baisil had developed the app in the amateur Google App inventor, which is maintained by MIT and is widely popular in the US and Europe. By July the prototype for the app was developed and the innovative doctor sent it to his friends and colleagues across Kerala, who shared it with their patients with hearing loss.

The prototype had only one basic tool, Face to Face Chat, which allows deaf people to communicate with those who can hear. The patients who tested the app related the troubles they usual faced on a daily basis, which included difficulty in waking up to a normal alarm clock, not noticing when someone calls from behind, and so on.

The remaining tools, Virtual Notes, which is a Virtual Interpreter & Note Taker; Call Companion, which converts phone calls to text in real time; Quake Awake Alarm for Deaf; and Guardian Angel, which alerts the user during emergencies were added based on their feedbacks.

Face to Face chat feature in the free app for the deaf Facebook/Let ME Hear Again PRO Android App for deaf

“My wife Dr Anu Elizabeth helped me with the designing, while over 100 other doctors helped with the testing phase until it was refined and redefined to meet the needs and necessities of prospective users,” said Dr Baisil.

This socially relevant app, which is currently being used by around 600 deaf individuals in India and over 2000 from across the world, was named the “App of the month” by MIT in the individual category. Dr Baisil is only the second Indian to win this prestigious award.

With an impressive rating of 4.3 on Google Play store, Let Me Hear Again allows users to converse in 71 different languages, and various dialects in English, including UK, NZ, Australian, African and Indian. While Indian users can choose from Hindi and English, more Indian languages are expected to be added to the app soon.

Dr Baisil does not want to stop with his efforts to help the deaf community with the app. He has in fact launched the Let ME Hear Again project, which aims to provide latest and innovative technologies for the deaf free of cost.

“Initially the app was released as free in India and $2 outside. Later a lot of deaf individuals from US requested to make it free. So now, while the basic version is free, sale of the paid PRO version with advanced features will help fund the Let ME Hear Again project.”

The app, which is constantly being renovated in accordance to the suggestions from users worldwide, is now being readied for iPhone and Kindle as well. Dr Baisil also hopes to incorporate sign language detection and conversion in the future.

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