This Singapore start-up is breaking barriers between the worlds of the Deaf and hearing

Photo: Alipay
Photo: Alipay

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What was the last show you binge-watched? Last movie at the cinema? How about the last video you shared? Every single day (let’s be real, we’re screen junkies) we watch videos without a second thought, but for the Deaf community, it’s a different, and much more challenging, experience. Sure, some movies and videos have subtitles, but the native language for most of the Deaf is actually sign language.

The Deaf community are often relegated to the margins of society. They face daily challenges in a world designed for hearing — things we take for granted. For example, they can’t go to the cinema and experience movies in the same way hearing people can.

Enter Wika Media, a Singaporean tech startup with a big vision: uniting the worlds of Deaf and hearing through media. Imagine a cinema where the Deaf can watch the latest movie and feel the same depth of emotions alongside everyone else in front of the same screen; laughing, crying or rolling their eyes at the gazillionth Spider-Man movie together. To Wika Media’s co-founder Roland Benzon, there’s no reason why this can’t be a reality in Singapore and beyond.

Using Wika’s app, smartglass, or set-top box, people can watch movies, TV shows, and video in their native sign language. Tech is the enabler, but the key is basic human emotion — and it was all inspired by Roland’s personal experience.

When it comes to social inclusion in Singapore, there’s a lot that we can improve, but we’re making progress thanks to companies like Wika Media and efforts that spur innovation like the Alipay-NUS Enterprise Social Innovation Challenge, which brought Wika Media to the forefront as a finalist.

To build on the challenge, Ant Financial Services Group, the operator of Alipay, together with International Finance Corporation, a member of the World Bank Group, have launched the 10×1000 Tech for Inclusion Program, an initiative that embraces interactivity and the exchange of ideas to provide training to 10,000 tech experts in emerging markets from both public and private sectors over the next 10 years.

Wika Media’s own Roland Benzon will take part in the upcoming 10×1000 workshop later this month in Ant Financial headquarters in Hangzhou. This marks the first time the workshop is being held in China after several successful editions in other countries. The workshop will promote social inclusion and global sustainability through technology. Participants, including tech leaders and local talent, can expect to walk away inspired to be “drivers for change” in the digital era. Sound like something you’d like to be a part of? Yep? We thought so!

Keep a lookout for more mini-documentaries about Southeast Asian start-ups like Wika Media that are giving local communities the attention they deserve. Share the videos, spread the word, and help improve people’s lives, one trip to the cinema at a time.

Related:

Meet Aruna, the Indonesian startup empowering fishing communities and attracting global attention

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