Pakistanis will be glued to their television screens this evening as polling comes to a close at 6pm and election numbers will be analysed, debated, fought over until we learn of the final results.
Local start-up ConnectHear and NGO NOWPDP are making sure that Pakistan's deaf people* don't miss out on this very important national conversation.
While NOWPDP works to cultivate a more inclusive environment for disabled people in Pakistan, ConnectHear seeks to specifically bridge the gap between deaf and mute people and larger society. For election day, both start-ups are broadcasting live interpretation of election commentary in sign language on their Facebook pages.
"We've been trying to get into news channels interpretation for quite a long time because we feel it's important for news to be interpreted for deaf people," shares Azima Dhanjee, co-founder of ConnectHear. "When we didn't get a lot of support from news channels, we decided to interpret the news and share it on our Facebook page, so our deaf audience could know what is going on in our country and the world."
While ConnectHear did get a break on Dawn News' Zara Hat Kay where they were invited to talk about their startup and were able to demonstrate the ease with which interpreters can be incorporated on news channels sets, Azima says that most channels are still "scared to lose their audience" by introducing something new. "We approached different news channels to host us for election commentary interpretation on their sets, but we didn't get a final response."
"All they have to do is fix a box on their channel and it could work out," she says.
For the elections, NOWPDP had initially hoped to facilitate deaf people during the voting process, but ECP rejected their proposal of placing volunteers at polling stations. When the prohibition of mobile phones at polling stations prevented the start-up from even remotely assisting deaf voters, they decided to launch sign language interpretation of election commentary on Facebook so they are at least able to make news coverage accessible to their deaf audience.
The transmission will feature an interpretor who will watch a news channel (depending on which channel gets the most votes by their audience) and interpret the news as it happens.
Azima says that she hopes their election coverage reaches at least 10,000 deaf viewers. "The number of views we get will make news channels realise how important it is to facilitate this accessibility. People watch television more than social media, and we would like to have greater reach."
*According to ConnectHear co-founder Azima Dhanjee, 'Deaf' is the appropriate term with more positive connotations than terms such as 'hearing impaired' which imply a deficit within a person. “Deaf is the term that the community worldwide identifies themselves as,” she explained.