Five App is the first app deaf people that allows them to send and receive animated messages in their native sign language.
The app started out as a way to send funny hand signals to friends. Two weeks after launch, with only 57 registered users, the app was close to failure. It was then that the founder and CEO, Mateusz Mach, received feedback from the deaf community. They loved the idea and would use the app if they could send signs to each other using their own universal language.
“A US-based Deaf occupational therapist, Cindy Chen, was the first to alert us to the possibility that our product might be more useful if it were transformed into a communicator for the deaf”, said Mach.
Eighty percent of all deaf people have problems reading or writing even the simplest messages because they have no “inner voice.” Even though they understand the meaning of a particular word in writing, they don’t know how it sounds – they learn to communicate in a more visual way. Sign language allows for faster and more natural communication. It is also a lifesaver for families and friends of deaf people who begin learning the sign language.
Mach managed to secure $150,000 in funding – quite an achievement for a 19-year-old. Together with Piotr Polański, an entrepreneur with over 15 years of experience in the IT sector, and multiple sign language academics and interpreters, they launched a new version of the app that has a variety of 819 most popular signs in ASL (American Sign Language). Selected signs are joined into an animation using an avatar. The users can also choose a facial expression for the avatar that corresponds to their emotions and use regular text. The message can be sent through Five App or Facebook Messenger.
The team aims to include the whole ASL dictionary in the app. Multiple variants of sign language – the Polish, French, German and British ones – will be added in the future. Mach also wants to create a translator function that would convert text into sign language.
Mach sees the future of Five App in cooperation with a big company such as Facebook or Samsung. He is certain that implementation of sign language in Facebook Messenger is not far away – and he wants Five App to be a part of it.