As a businessman, Ram Kumar has to interact with clients and suppliers and for this he needs the services of an interpreter on a regular basis. He would hire one on a certain day of the week and line up all his meetings for that day.
“This was a logistical nightmare as it is not convenient for all my clients and suppliers to be available on one particular day but I had no choice as I could only hire an interpreter with a week’s notice and pre-book the service”, says Kumar, who is based in Bengaluru. Even this was filled with uncertainty as the interpreter would often not turn up at the last minute.
These are the kind of headaches that terpIt, is aiming to do away with. Launched by Yunikee, which offers customised solutions for educational institutions, terpIt is a flagship service for the deaf community to book Indian Sign Language (ISL) interpreters online.
It’s a huge gap that terpIt is aiming to fill, given there are nearly 70 million deaf and hard of hearing Indians with limited access to services and products that are readily available for the hearing population. Contrast this to the less than 500 recognised interpreters that are available.
The service is aimed at corporates, academic institutions, NGOs and people looking to use the service on demand or through a continued partnership, says Kothapalli, who has co-founded this with his wife Nita Gopalakrishnan. To make it a hassle-free service, there is a three-step online booking service that takes away the pain of contacting multiple agencies.
The services are offered in four categories - hourly, half day, full day and virtual. “The longer the engagement, the economical it is”, says Kothapalli. Also on offer is a customised service option to suit the needs of organisations or individuals. The rates offered, he claims, are cheaper than industry standards, starting from Rs. 500 per hour of interpretation.
Kumar, who now regularly accesses the service, says it has made life easier. “This certainly saves time, logistical effort and money to conduct my business. I can now decide things faster instead of waiting for an entire week for my interpreter to help and the quality of interpretation is also very good.”
terpIt is currently available in Bengaluru and there are plans to expand it to Chennai and Hyderabad in the next three months. Post that, there are plans to take the service to Mumbai, Delhi and other metros. There are four interpreters in the Bengaluru network and the company is seeking to build a team of partners in cities like Chennai, Hyderabad, Mumbai and Delhi.
Unlike in the West, India ISL interpretation is not seen as a full-time career option in India and it is here that TerpIt faces its biggest challenge, says Nita Gopalakrishnan. “Identifying skilled sign language interpreters is a problem as is verifying their interpretation skills in ISL and ensuring compliance with our quality standards”. Certification is another major challenge, she points out. ”With limited options available and in distributed geographies, people who want to learn interpretation are left without a convenient way to learn”.
To address the challenge, the team has started an online course where those interested can learn ISL and become a part of terpIt’s network of interpreters.
The founders bring to the venture over 17 years of experience in the tech and business fields. Nita’s parents lost their hearing ability at a young age and she has been working for many years with a London-based NGO that reaches out to children with hearing impairments. “Interacting with my in-laws and other deaf people opened up a world unknown to me", says Kothapalli.
It is this world they wants to brings to the mainstream by making communication between the hearing & deaf population barrier-free. “Creating a platform for connecting them through sign language interpreters is the first step towards that goal” adds Gopalakrishnan.