Students Develop App to Support Emirates’ Deaf Community

December 17th, 2015: A team of students from Canadian University Dubai (CUD) has set out to help unite the deaf and non-deaf communities of the UAE through a mobile application that teaches users the fundamentals of Emirati sign-language.

The students came up with the idea for the app, which is known as Efhamni – Arabic for ‘understand me’ – following research which found that families with deaf children tend to adopt more informal methods of communication that might limit the child’s potential to engage with wider society.

The technology is being developed as part of the Ripples of Happiness Program – a region-wide community initiative delivered by the Coca-Cola Foundation and INJAZ UAE, which aims to encourage social responsibility. The program supports students to develop projects that will leave a positive impact on society, to encourage other members of the community to follow their lead, thereby creating a ‘ripple effect’ that will continue to spread.

Architecture student and member of the Efhamni project management team, Craig Muyambo, explained, “Emirati sign-language was formally developed five years ago, but the dialect still isn’t fully utilized among the 2,000 deaf people and their families in the UAE.

“What’s more, there is a shortage of instructors to teach both deaf and non-deaf people how to communicate through the language, and this is limiting the potential for members of the deaf community to access education and employment opportunities.”

The application is being developed in consultation with the Kalimati Speech and Communication Center and the UAE Deaf Association, and will provide a practical and interactive platform to learn the Emirati sign-language through a selection of video tutorials that relate to a range of everyday activities.

Fellow team member Nérimel Bessa continued, “Our main goal is to unite the two communities, and to promote integration and communication so that hearing impaired people can play a full role in society. The app is not only a practical solution to an everyday problem, but also contributes to the goals relating to community cohesion and harnessing the potential of human capital, featured in the UAE’s national strategic plan, Vision 2021.”

As part of the Ripples of Happiness Program, the team was supported by a group of mentors: Assistant Professor Jeanette Teh, and representatives from the local business community, Sveccha Kumar and Youshey Zakiuddin.

Sveccha and Youshey, who are responsible for corporate sustainability initiatives at telecoms firm, du, commented, “From the first day we met the students we could sense their passion and will to make a difference. The concept and thought behind Efhamni definitely addresses a need that is currently not being met, and has potential to evolve and be a game changer. No doubt we’ve faced challenges through the process, but in the end, we hope that this experience will take the students a long way.”

Sulaf Saleh Al Zu’bi, CEO of INJAZ UAE, said, "It was an inspiring journey giving students the opportunity to create and discover their talents applied in this program and remarkable software application. The Efhamni app can touch many hearts, helping engage people with hearing disabilities more easily, and making the use of sign language for the community around them more mainstream.”

The team recently conducted a briefing session about the new app and is now continuing to fine-tune the technology before its formal launch, which will be marked with an event involving members of the deaf community during January 2016.