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April 01, 2019
Invasion of technology made Narayanan Ramakrishnan develop a communication App to ease the lives of people with autism.
“The differently abled people can be empowered significantly through advanced gadgets. Once I saw a boy with cerebral palsy using a Nokia 6600 the phone, equipped with joysticks, to communicate with an application on the computer to type out documents quickly, this made me realize how technology can help in overcoming impairments,” says Narayanan Ramakrishnan, CEO, Invention Labs.
A multi-disciplinary team comprising of software engineers, software testers, product specialists, customer excellence team, and sales and marketing team collectively made the app called ‘Avaz’ that helps the autistic individual to boost their communication skills.
“Avaz is a picture and text-based communication app to help people with autism to communicate about their needs and express their thoughts with family and friends,” says Ramakrishnan.
The app began its journey as a hardware device in 2009. It was the brainchild of Ajit Narayanan, an IIT-Madras alumnus and founder of Invention Labs. Currently, the app is available in ten languages and is used by the autistic individual within more than 20 countries.
“I started my journey hoping to use technology a tool of empowerment for the differently-abled. With this aim, I pursued an MS from Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, where I focused on assistive technology related domains. Soon after, I began working on Avaz app at Invention Labs to enable people with autism to communicate,” Ramakrishnan adds.
The Avaz team developed a prototype of its first version along with Vidyasagar, a Tamil Nadu based social organization that runs several programmes for the differently-abled. “We involved special educators, speech therapists, and parents to constantly iterate Avaz. We test multiple prototype versions of Avaz with children and kept improving it based on the user feedback,” Ramakrishnan tells Education Times.
In order to reach out to autistic people and their parents in rural areas, the team collaborated with the Tamil Nadu government, which undertook a massive assistive technology implementation exercise for children with speech disabilities.
The use of this app has helped remarkably reduce a child’s frustration, increase the intent to communicate, reduction in behavioral issues, increase in self-esteem and confidence, increase in independence, improvement in social relationships, and access to education.
“We were incubated from IIT-M’s Rural Technology and Business Incubator (RTBI) and received an initial grant from Technology Development Board (TDB) to create our first version of the product,” concluded Ramakrishnan.
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