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Deaf dreams to digital realities

george and alexandros geratziotis
George and Alexandros Geratziotis

Two brothers have promoted inclusivity by developing an app for the hard of hearing

By Souzana Psara

In Cyprus, a groundbreaking movement is taking shape, led by brothers George Geratziotis and Dr Alexandros Geratziotis, two visionaries with a shared mission. Their journey, born out of academic pursuit and personal passion, has evolved into Connect Deaf, a shining example of innovation and inclusion for the deaf and hard-of-hearing community.

After completing his bachelor’s degree in applied multimedia at the University of Nicosia, George embarked on his master’s studies at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in South Africa.

While diving deep into his thesis, he stumbled upon a harsh truth: the deaf community was severely neglected in terms of technology and information access.

“It was like a lightbulb moment,” he said, “I realised that despite their ability to see, the deaf were largely invisible when it came to technological inclusivity.”

This revelation didn’t sit well with him. “It was a wake-up call,” George said. “I understood that just because they can see doesn’t mean they’re not facing barriers.”

George began dedicating his free time to developing a mobile application to bridge the communication gap for deaf users. The app allowed messages to be sent in sign language. George shared his project with his university supervisor, expecting some feedback but not anticipating what came next.

“George, stop whatever you are doing. This will now become your master’s subject matter,” she advised, seeing the potential impact of his work.

sign language alphabet keyboard mobile application
Sign language alphabet keyboard mobile application

Meanwhile, Alexandros, having just completed his PhD, in information technology at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth, was navigating the post-doctoral world also with a focus on making technology more accessible for the deaf community.

He was hosted at the Cyprus Interaction Lab, at the Department of Multimedia and Graphic Arts of the Cyprus University of Technology to conduct the project on “Usability and User Experience User Interface Design Heuristics for Deaf Users”.

“This provided me with the opportunity to do more research in this field and realise how technology and information are not accessible to the deaf community in general,” Alexandros said.

“George and I have since been working in this space and have formed Connect Deaf. It was an eye-opener,” Alexandros added, “the gap in technology accessibility was wide, but the potential to bridge it was even wider.”

Their combined efforts led to the birth of Connect Deaf in 2017. A Cypriot SME, it quickly rose to prominence, not just for its innovative approach to inclusivity but for its dedication to fostering diversity and ensuring equal access for the deaf and hard-of-hearing.

Our mission is to dismantle barriers and foster an environment where everyone has equal opportunities,” said George stated.

From the get-go, we knew we were onto something big. Our projects, our research, it all pointed to a future where information and opportunities were accessible to all,” George said.

The company’s achievements are many, from pioneering inclusive communication apps, which are funded by the commerce ministry to hosting seminars with Cypriot sign language interpretation, covering topics from Photoshop to Microsoft Excel.

The Sign Language Alphabet Keyboard Mobile Application (Acronym MAKeySL) is a mobile application designed for Android and iOS platforms, that revolutionises communication for deaf individuals.

Specifically, it seamlessly integrates sign language alphabet messages into mainstream social media and networking platforms, including WhatsApp, FB Messenger, Telegram, and Google Hangouts, among others.

george geratziotis and panayiota themistokleous, a sign language interpreter(2) (1)
George Geratziotis and Panayiota Themistokleous, a sign language interpreter

Available in 13 different sign language alphabets such as American, British, Australian, New Zealand, Brazilian, French, South African, German, Greek, Cypriot, Indian, Irish, and Chinese, MAKeySL stands as a bridge between deaf and hearing communities. Consequently, it enhances accessibility and fosters inclusivity in digital conversations.

Moreover, through its intuitive features and user-friendly interface, MAKeySL empowers deaf users to communicate more independently, expressing themselves authentically and comprehensively. Additionally, the app facilitates the formation of a supportive online community where deaf individuals can connect with others, share experiences and build meaningful relationships.

Deaf users gain increased accessibility to digital communication channels, enabling them to participate more fully in online interactions and connect with friends and family without language barriers.

Furthermore, it encourages both deaf and hearing individuals to learn and appreciate sign language. Through its integration with mainstream social media platforms, MAKeySL not only breaks down communication barriers but also fosters understanding and acceptance.

Alexandros, reflecting on their journey and the impact of their work, added, “Everyone should be able to access technology and information in their first language. It’s about respecting diversity and ensuring inclusivity at every level.”

a connect deaf seminar
A Connect Deaf seminar

Their story, however, is more than a tale of technological innovation. It’s about recognising a gap and daring to bridge it. It’s about two brothers who saw an opportunity not just to succeed in business but to make a real difference in people’s lives.

Mike Panayiotou, who has benefited from the Connect Deaf seminars, praises the organisation’s efforts as vital for individuals with hearing challenges. He specifically appreciates the support from corporations such as Cyta, recognising their role in enhancing accessibility and support for the deaf community.

“The initiatives by Connect Deaf have been indispensable, offering us a significant support network. It’s uplifting to witness companies like Cyta contributing positively to this cause,” he said.

Underlying Connect Deaf is a fundamental belief: “Equal access is a right, not a privilege,” George remarked. Alexandros added, “Everyone should be able to access technology and information in their first language.”

This philosophy is echoed by Despina Ioannou, educator, and president of the Cyprus Deaf Association, who praised Connect Deaf for creating a functionally accessible space that goes beyond just catering to people with hearing loss.

Ioannou highlighted the company’s role in transforming the landscape for people with hearing loss. “Connect Deaf is more than just a company; it’s a lifeline,” she said.

Panayiota Themistokleous, a sign language interpreter, praised its efforts to offer seminars and knowledge acquisition opportunities. “I hope Connect Deaf continues to grow and strengthen, becoming an ever-greater pillar of support for the Deaf of Cyprus,” she said.

As Connect Deaf continues to break new ground, its founders remain grounded in their mission. “This journey is about more than technology; it’s about creating a society where everyone has a voice,” Alexandros said. George nodded in agreement, adding, “And we’re just getting started. We’re not just breaking down barriers; we’re building bridges,” George concluded.

It’s a reminder that when visionaries come together, driven by a shared purpose, the impossible becomes possible. And in this case, it’s not just about opening doors; it’s about ensuring those doors remain wide open for everyone, deaf or hearing, to walk through.

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