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Article source: Think New

A serious encounter with Ménière’s disease partway through his PhD studies was a life-changing event in more ways than one for Arash Tayebi.

The inner ear disorder resulted in him losing the hearing in one ear and facing up to the possibility he could become deaf in the future. Studying at Auckland University, and feeling far from his home in Iran, he says the experience hit him hard.

But Arash turned one of the biggest challenges in his life into an opportunity. He became the driving force behind Kara Technologies, an award-winning start-up using digital sign language avatars to make communications of all kinds accessible to those with hearing issues.

His own situation made him question the noticeable lack of deaf people studying at universities, becoming entrepreneurs, and holding leadership positions in the workplace. “I asked myself if I become completely deaf will I not be able to succeed in study and work?”

Engaging with the Deaf community he learned of the real shortage of teachers of sign language, and the complexities in resolving that. Bringing in teachers from overseas is not the answer because they do not know New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL). Closed captioning, which can automatically caption speech is of limited use as young children cannot read, and existing avatars are not expressive enough for Deaf people.

“I said let’s work together to come up with a solution.”


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