By Jared Karol
Imagine the scene:
You’re visiting a country where you don’t speak the language fluently. In one-on-one conversations you can get by well enough. But in a group setting, there’s just too much going on to fully engage in the discussion — people are talking too quickly, more than one person is talking at a time, their faces are turned away from you. You can’t keep up, and ultimately, you end up being excluded from the conversation. You find solace, though, knowing that soon you’ll be back in your own country speaking your own language.
But what if you’re deaf or hard of hearing? Nearly every group conversation is like this. You’re often in a state of being left out and left behind. Anywhere you go — any city, public place, party, work meeting — you likely will be unable to participate and communicate fully in a group setting. This makes it much more challenging to make friends and build relationships.
Thibault grew up in a deaf family in France — his father, mother, and sister were all deaf. As the only member of his family who was not hearing impaired, he was always dealing with communications challenges. When he came to the US a few years ago, he knew he had to start working on finding a solution — and that’s where Ava comes in. With innovative software that transcribes the words of everyone in the group in seconds, and a strong belief that together we’re stronger, Thibault and his team are working on creating total accessibility for all people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
Thibault believes that people being excluded from the conversation is a topic we don’t talk about enough. His goal is to raise awareness, and help more people understand how much is missing. The more we realize the rampant exclusion in our group conversations, the more we will be able to do something about it. “How do we make awareness happen faster?” is a question that drives his work.
He also believes that self-advocacy is a big part of the solution. It takes courage for a person who is deaf to talk about their disability, but they shouldn’t feel the need to hide it. Ultimately, the decision to self-advocate or not is a choice each person has to make, but Thibault says, “Very rarely is it a mistake to step up.” When we step up we experience other people on a much deeper level.
Thibault draws on his physics background to share a principle that embodies the concept well. Picture a ball in a small hole that’s in a state of equilibrium and with a certain level of energy. To get to the next hole, we have to expend a lot of energy to get it to a new state of equilibrium. This takes effort, but it’s totally worth it, because you’re now in a higher state of energy or balance. This new heightened state of awareness is rewarding because it was not easy to attain.
And when more of us do get it, Thibault’s goal of total accessibility will be that much closer to being realized.
Listen to the full podcast with Thibault Duchemin here or below.
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