in south africa
SignSupport is a collection of mobile apps running on an innovative Deaf contact centre designed and developed to support the lives of Deaf people who communicate primarily in South African Sign Language (SASL). The solutions are co-designed with Deaf communities in the Western Cape like Deaf Community of Cape Town (DCCT), DeafSA and the National Institute for the Deaf (NID) in Worcester; multidisciplinary research teams at the University of the Western Cape (UWC); and other expert partners like Diabetes SA and Western Cape Provincial EMS.
We all use technology to adapt our world to our needs. SignSupport intends to taylor the ICT user experience (UX) to the specific needs of Deaf users. Many Deaf people who mainly use signed language for communication encounter a lot of problems in communicating and accessing information in society where hearing people are the ‘norm’. We believe Deaf people know best about their communication problems, and also have the best ideas for solutions. Our research team, Bridging Application and Network Gaps (BANG) based at the UWC Computer Science, has taken the initiative to bring Deaf people’s ideas to reality and leveraging mobile phones together with WhatsApp API, Salesforce and Zapier. We have funding from the Technology Innovation Agency and are busy pursuing additional funding for research, technology development and sustainable operations from a variety of sponsors and partners.
In our journey, Deaf people have helped design the following mobile apps:
Pharmacy – drug issuing processes, with information in SASL and option to request a callback from a Deaf operator who may connect the Deaf patient to a Deaf pharmacy assistant.
Emergency calls – Police, Fire and Medical, with support content in SASL, and again, an option to request a callback from a Deaf operator who can rope in a Deaf helper, a Deaf interpreter or a relay interpreter.
Diabetes – self-management knowledge content in SASL with interactive support via callback.
Each of these apps has SASL video stored on a phone to reduce data costs, and provides a low cost message-based way to request more information and clarification from either a Deaf healthcare worker or a Deaf interpreter to translate SASL to text and back. Note that this approach can handle any medical arena, e.g. HIV/AIDs, tuberculosis, hypertension, etc. All that’s needed is to layout the content and record the SASL videos.
All such apps connect to a Deaf contact centre, which is actually a rich media contact centre that handles text, voice, pictures and video as messages and/or in real-time. All communications can be zero-rated and/or back-billed to save Deaf people money. We have integrated the WhatsApp API to the Salesforce Customer Relationship Management (CRM) backend with Zapier in order to provide a seamless platform that is run and managed by Deaf operators, using the popular WhatsApp interface, or in most cases, completely hiding it from view.
Our goal is to spin-off the research with technology transfer mechanisms. Firstly, with a commercial technology development organisation that develops and supports the platform comprising rich media contact centre and apps. Secondly, with commercial, both profit and non-for-profit entities, orientated towards PBO (public benefit organisation) status to leverage the platform to train and staff Deaf people to handle Deaf needs. The overarching idea is that Deaf people provide governance of the ecosystem to ensure that Deaf needs come first.
We would welcome like minded partners who feel they can add value to the journey.
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