– As the saying goes, “necessity is the mother of invention”, a lack of satisfactory communication with a close friend with a speech disability made a 21-year-old senior at the University of Business and Applied Sciences think Malawi (MUBAS).
The young student, Madalitso Mnduwira, has ended up devising gloves that, when worn and used in sign language gestures, interpret speech communication using English or local languages.
Mnduwira, who studies Information Technology at the University, said in a recent interview, with the innovation, he hopes that people with disabilities who require the use of sign language to communicate will be able to do so effectively.
“The speaking gloves, which were made from low-cost, locally manufactured materials, will help bridge the communication gaps between the hearing impaired and the public,” explained the innovator.
The prototype of the invention has been tested and, according to Mnduwira, it has proven to be accurate and effective.
The innovative student, who fell in love with scientific subjects since his high school days, intends to produce as many gloves as possible to facilitate communication between people with hearing or speech impairments and the public.
“This is just a prototype of the product to come,” he explained. “I hope to find sponsors to finance the mass production of the product so that many people can be assisted.”
Mnduwira’s innovation has already caught the attention of many, including hearing and speech impaired people who rely on sign language to communicate.
A 26-year-old businesswoman living in the market town of Blantyre in Malawi, Mercy Kathemba, is among those praising the new innovation.
The woman was born deaf and said that communicating with her customers using sign language has always been daunting.
“It’s always complicated and difficult to communicate with my clients: most people in my area can’t understand sign language and it’s always expensive to hire someone to interpret my sign language,” the woman explained.
“I strongly believe that this development will provide solutions to most of our communication problems. I hope these speaking gloves will become more affordable to reach many people,” he added.
The Malawi Council for the Disabled (MACOHA) has also raised eyebrows at the anticipation of advanced communication through ‘talking gloves’.
Council public relations officer Harriet Kachimanga also noted that many people are unfamiliar with sign language and that Mnduwira’s innovation will make it easier for people who cannot sign language to understand gestures.
“This is a very good development: there are people with hearing and speech disabilities with knowledge and skills that can drive the development of the country, but they do not fully contribute to society due to communication limitations,” Kachimanga explained.
“We believe that the development of such innovations will make it easier for people with hearing and speech disabilities to communicate personally with the public and contribute to matters of national interest,” he concluded.
According to the African Sign Language Resource Centre, Malawi has very few trained interpreters and most of them are not accredited.
Out of a population of 52,000 deaf people, there are only 11 interpreters, who work as volunteers and are not salaried. ■