From the ‘delectable’ world of ‘Jellow’ the Speech Communicator – discovering the ‘signs’ of the times

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Founders of ‘Jellow’ interacting with the Ambassador of India to Lebanon

‘Jellow’ – the absolutely delectable:

Some things in life are so ubiquitously appreciated that they could exist simply by virtue of those needs. The lick of an ice cream made with fresh, actual layers of tender coconut could be one such! In the West? That could be tart strawberry pieces peeping out through the creamy gelato layers!!

Let’s now look at a parallel. In the world of the ‘special needs’ being able to go through a day’s basic activities without actually worrying about how to communicate these tasks between users and caregivers would be like having a strawberry gelato at the end of the day. We certainly felt such a delicacy-consuming moment on a recent visit to Lebanon (mid-April 2018).

As part of an interesting event exploring “Signs and Sense” in Beirut recently, one had an opportunity to position ‘Jellow’ as a solution that is mindful of our sensory(s) uses. ‘Jellow’ definitely uses at least three of the five sensory(s) in everyday use: our sight, our sound, and our sense of touch through gestures and tangible contacts with interfaces. It was also clear that ‘Jellow’ sits in the “shared-personal” domain of information communication.

As an Augmentative and Assisted Communication (AAC) System for Speech Disabilities in Children suffering from Cerebral Palsy and Autism that is also mindful of the use of the sensory(s) is heartening as sensory(s) are the most primeval bridge to expressing our daily needs, especially where children are concerned.Jellow’s interfaces found great resonance precisely because its interfaces mirror one’s ability to express one’s emotions of both happiness (through satisfaction) + upset and anger (through frustrations experienced). The basic sensory(s) of everyday life played out through the working of ‘Jellow’ seemed pretty obvious to the audience.

Within the microcosm of a tiny country, Lebanon, momentous revelations for ‘Jellow’

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The “Signs & Sense” event at Beirut, Lebanon

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Founders of ‘Jellow’ Prof. Ravi Poovaiah & Dr. Ajanta Sen

The audience composition was as interesting as ‘Jellow’ itself. It seemed like a microcosm of the universe itself as it consisted of very many young (grad students + young professionals) as well as adults such as faculty members, practicing professionals from the design communities, plus senior heads of groups at Universities and elsewhere. But more than this variation, it was interesting that the pretty rapturous response to the product did actually cut through an audiences of global proportion, coming as it did, from at least four different collaborating countries, viz., Lebanon, Germany, France and India. Fortunately, our initial sense of circumspection naturally arising while having to present to an audience of both sizeable numbers + sizeable number of languages was soon allayed as ‘Jellow’ seemed to speak a universal language that went far beyond the four different languages the audience spoke: Arabic, French, English.
(That a fourth language, German, sat significantly in the audience was by virtue of a relatively large contingent of students attending the event from a design school in Berlin. Luckily, they understood at least a sprinkling of English).

Through this maze of languages and translations (the French-to-English, the English-to-Arabic translations being officially set up by the organizers), ‘Jellow’ found its way. Because ‘Jellow’ traverses a genuinely emotive-level pathway as a response to a condition that is life-afflicting, with solutions that seem even today, almost illusory.

The very first response came from a senior member of the University’s administration who spoke up to say that a version for adults would be a real boon. And, could we have it asap? A version for adults would mean addressing (1) those with special needs communications difficulties that have extended beyond the childhood years to become complex and manifold in dealing with life’s variegated everyday needs – as if life wasn’t complex enough just growing up in a world where one possessed even “normal” faculties; and (2) those struck in the prime of life or even in the more advanced/senior years by conditions like stroke that debilitates one’s speech and motor reflexes, and disallows a person to communicate even his/her simple needs of life. Afflicted by this condition termed ‘Aphasia’ is like having to start life anew with none of the promise of a new childhood. It means burdening one’s family with an adult who wishes to be self-sufficient but can’t because of the effects of aphasia, the most debilitating of these being speech curtailments.

The next major feedback was a sincere plea for an Arabic and French version. It needs no special mention here that, if we were to introduce ‘Jellow’ in Arabic, it would easily cover the middle-East countries. And by introducing French, we would cover the entire Francophone world that resides in Africa all the way form its northern coastline with Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, to middle Africa and Western coastal Africa such as Chad, the Congos, Mali, Gabon, Sierra Leone, etc.,. Not to mention France + Francophone countries such as Belgium and Canada.

To gather this implication of momentous proportion from a pint-sized country such as Lebanon whose total population could be no more than the neighborhood territories for a huge city like Bombay, was humbling. Indeed, very humbling. The fact also that we have now forged an ongoing work relationship with Lebanon that will take us to the country several times next year is equally promising. Compounded by the fact that the Indian Ambassador to Lebanon had come to meet with us – a touching gesture of diplomacy there to say how important India’s initiatives are being counted as potential collaborations. All of which could further help us strategize this language outreach vision for ‘Jellow’.

In sum, while in Lebanon, ‘Jellow’ gave us the following:
– a spontaneous reception to the idea of ‘Jellow’ as a sensory-sensitive solution to a complex problem – achieved in its “basicness” and its simplicity
– a great sense of identification for ‘special needs’ situations
– a love for the interface as a concrete/evidentiary reinforcement of the first two feedbacks
– something on similar lines would do wonders for adults
– would be great if we could cut through language barriers via translations with French and Arabic language versions for ‘Jellow’, in order to bring in ecosystems of folks not as yet covered by a solution such as ‘Jellow’