Starting out at a hardware device in 2009, Avaz is a picture and text-based communication app to help people with autism communicate about their needs and express their thoughts. A brainchild of Ajit Narayanan, an IIT-Madras alumnus and founder of Invention Labs, the app was developed along with Vidyasagar, a Tamil Nadu-based social organisation that run programmes for the differently-abled.
Narayan Ramakrishnan, CEO of Avaz, told InUth,
“Avaz is an app that enables children with autism to communicate their feelings, their emotions, their thoughts, their needs and their ideas. It enables them to get access to education. With Avaz, children can communicate at home to ask for their favourite food, or they can even ask what they want to buy at a shopping mall.”
It was the absence of a platform to reduce stress among autistic children in India, who number up to 1% of children under the age of 10. Ramakrishnan further stated,
“Ten years ago, in India, if you had difficulty with communication or speech, you had very limited options to communicate with other people, even your family. You had to either use sign language or pictures or rely on extremely expensive devices from the US that may sometimes be even unreliable. So we went ahead and created Avaz.”
The team involved special educators, speech therapists and parents to constantly iterate Avaz. They also developed multiple prototype versions and improved them on the basis of user feedback. To reach out to autistic people in rural areas, the team collaborated with the Tamil Nadu government and undertook a massive assistive technology exercise for children with speech disabilities.
Kalvina Rajendran, product manager at Avaz, told InUth,
“These feedbacks and testimonials have helped us to fine-tune the app in a better way. Earlier, the conversation would be of just answering the questions. For example, if the parent asks the child if he wants breakfast, the child would answer either ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Now, using Avaz, the child (user) has started asking for things before the question is even asked, like asking for food if he’s hungry.”
The app is currently available in 10 languages and is used by autistic individuals in over 50 countries.