Olivier Jeannel: How RogerVoice aims to bring phone calls to deaf people

Posted on October 10, 2014

I’m sitting in an office, in a clean white shirt and tie, impatiently tapping my fingers on the desk. My coworkers, Javier and Franck, are opposite me. A conference call is underway and the phone is on loudspeaker mode. I look intently at them for a while, then my attention wanders off.

I grew up with a hearing loss. Communication has never been something I took for granted. But rather as an experience in itself.

RogerVoice_Android_KSBorn and raised in California, schooled at UC Berkeley, I became captivated by life in Europe, and challenges in general. I love adventure and travels. My deafness has not stopped me from mastering several languages – English, French, and Spanish.

I can lip-read at an astounding rate, and catch most of what other people say.

Lip-reading however is not an exact science. It’s a lot of guesswork, which I do almost unconsciously. But at the end of the day, I’m usually drained from the sheer effort.

At my office, Javier asks with a raised eyebrow if I’m fine. I flash back a smile and a thumbs-up. But in fact, I had no clue what is being said on the line.

Javier understands though. He indicates the call is boring and not worth following. He then types on his screen “they’re saying the new business plan needs to be revised.” Why? I ask. “It’s complicated. I’ll explain later.” I drum my fingers again.

Because of my deafness, I am not able to use a telephone. It is something I just learned to get by without, or to ask others to handle for me. I manage most situations just fine with SMS and email. But it always seems to me like my life would be so much easier if I could just pick up a phone. And call. Anyone. In any language.

After my studies I eventually spent a career at Orange. The irony of being deaf and working for a telecom operator hadn’t escaped me.

America has had a phone relay system in place since the 1990’s. It costs hundreds of millions of dollars per year. Only a handful of countries have such a system. The rest of the world doesn’t.

Technology, I felt, would eventually change the game. There just had to be a way to make telephone conversations universally accessible even for the deaf.

I teamed up with a friend, Sidney Burks, and explained my challenge. A talented coder and problem solver, Sidney switched careers after his PhD in quantum physics to pursue programming. Together with another friend and serial entrepreneur, Pablo Seuc-Rocher, we’ve cooked up various schemes to change the world.

This time, I wanted to change my own life. I wanted to stop depending on others to handle a conference call, dial a plumber, or even just to call my parents.

“Impossible, it’s not going to work” said Sidney. “That’s why we can do it!” I countered.

So this year at age 33 I quit my job and launched RogerVoice.

RogerVoice delivers real-time transcriptions of phone conversations. It read the words off your screen as your correspondent talks. Because RogerVoice uses automated technology, our promise is that we can operate 24/7 and cover multiple languages worldwide.

The founders have launched a crowdfuding campaign on Kickstarter to complete their project, and expect to release a first version on Android by the end of the year. The founders hope to double their funding target in order to develop an iPhone app as well, and include a text-to-speech functionality for deaf people who do not speak.

Here is the link to their website and their project video: http://kck.st/1C526AE

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