Innovation Spotlight: Lugha Ishara tackling language deprivation in Deaf children.

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This blog is part of our weekly #InnovationSpotlight-exploring the stories of ventures within our GDI Hub Accelerate portfolio. Here we meet The Accessibility Institute (TAI) , a social enterprise that completed our Kenyan-based Innovate Now Accelerator.

In 2018, Lugha Ishara was founded by Nancy Maina and a team of four volunteers who were passionate about improving the lives of deaf children and young adults in the country. Their goal was to provide child-friendly Kenya Sign Language (KSL) testing products that would tackle the challenges of language deprivation and understand the systemic causes to provide solutions. They provide methods and tools for early detection and intervention of hearing loss and language development in deaf children.

A photo of Nancy on the right speaking to the former president of Kenya (Uhuru Kenyatta) during an exhibition.

Lugha Ishara’s primary focus is on early years, early detection, intervention, language development, and education for deaf children. They believe that language development and education for deaf children should start during post-natal care, with awareness on the devastating irreversible effects of language deprivation, rather than at the point of attending school. Since its founding, Lugha Ishara has made significant progress. Their first event, dubbed the ‘baby signing competition’, brought parents together and resulted in the regular ‘deaf hub’, now called the hangout hub. This is a space where deaf children and their families can meet and engage with other children, learn sign language, and access therapy.

Other programs tied to language development include the Talent Academy, designed for parents of both deaf and hearing children who want their children to develop Kenya Sign Language (KSL), grow talents, and explore inclusion. The Online Deaf School is aimed at parents of deaf children who want their children to learn through digitally customized deaf-oriented educational and entertainment content. Lugha Ishara Inclusion Clubs offer staff training for organizational development, interpretation services, and KSL content development.

Nancy and members of her teaminteracting with children at one of their sessions.

As a member of Global Disability Innovation (GDI) Hub’s Innovate Now accelerator program, Nancy was able to get training on business development, design thinking, and financial management, as well as mentorship from industry experts, to help her turn her innovation into a successful business. The Innovate Now Live Labs network, where entrepreneurs like Nancy take their products to direct users to test them, is key to validate ideas and products.

Through this robust programme, Nancy and her team have been able to learn how to build strategic partnerships with hospitals, academia, and civil society actors. Currently, Lugha Ishara has reached over 400 people and engaged a volunteer workforce model, with a pool of over 11 full and part-time unpaid volunteer staff, including deaf adults, over 25 paid and non-paid consultants. They have also raised more than KES.2,500,000 (19,158.90 USD) over five years. Lugha Ishara aims to enhance the language development outcomes of deaf children in Kenya by 2024.

Their future goal is to scale tools and methods that support language development, improve organizational efficiency, increase revenue, and contribute to the body of evidence in Africa on language development. They strive to continue their mission to address language deprivation in deaf children and promote language development, enabling cognitive, social, and emotional development.

In conclusion, Lugha Ishara is a vital organization in Kenya, providing much-needed support for deaf children and their families, and their work has the potential to change the lives of many deaf children in the country. Their efforts to raise awareness of language deprivation and promote language development in deaf children are commendable and can serve as a model for other countries facing similar challenges.

About Innovate Now

Innovate Now was launched in 2019 as part of the £40 million, UK Aid funded, AT2030 program, led by the Global Disability Innovation Hub. “Implemented through a consortium of partners including Amref Health Africa (lead implementing partner 2019-2021) and Kilimanjaro Blind Trust (Live Labs implementing partner and new lead implementing partner).” (“Innovate Now, Africa’s first Assistive Technology accelerator reignited.”) Today’s Innovation Now is a partnership between the Global Disability Innovation Hub (GDI Hub), ICT Norway and Norad, bringing a new wave of momentum in the African innovation space.