A mobile translation app helps deaf people to communicate

Mateo Salvatto has created Háblalo!, a real-time translation app that helps deaf people communicate with those around them.

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Mateo Salvatto has created Háblalo!, a real-time translation app that helps deaf people communicate with those around them

Mateo Salvatto, a young innovator from Argentina, has been used to talking to deaf people ever since he was a child. He learnt sign language at an early age, thanks to his mother who teaches deaf children in Buenos Aires. Though he knew sign language himself, he saw how difficult it was for deaf children to communicate with people who did not, and that this often prevented them from doing something as simple as asking for a glass of milk.

To solve this problem, Salvatto, a self-confessed technology fanatic, decided to put his knowledge to good use by developing a translation app which would help deaf people to communicate with those around them. At just 19 years of age, he created Háblalo! (Spanish for ‘Speak it!’), an app that converts text into speech and vice versa.

To help demonstrate his achievement, Salvatto offers an example of how it works: “Imagine that a deaf person is attending a conference and they want to follow the discussion: all they have to do is activate the app and it will subtitle the speaker in real time”. Furthermore,  he explains, if they want to ask a question themselves, they can write it in the app, which will convert it into speech so that everyone can listen to it.

As well as deaf people, Háblalo! can also help people with other conditions that affect speech, such as cerebral palsy or aphasia. This is because the app can do more than simply translate written text; it also uses shortcuts to allow the user to quickly indicate what they want. For example, if someone wants to ask for a sweet, they can tap the icon with a picture of a sweet, or if they want a steak, they can tap the corresponding picture and the app will convert this into spoken language.

At first, Salvatto only developed Háblalo! as a prototype to show to his deaf friends, but it now has more than 50,000 downloads. This success has led to his recognition as one of Latin America’s Innovators Under 35 in 2018, awarded by MIT Technology Review in Spanish. Salvatto, however, has a much larger audience in his sights: “Háblalo! has the potential to help a global community of 250 million people”, he says.

To build on the success of Háblalo! and start developing other projects, Salvatto has founded Asteroid Technologies, a company which will help to back up his new ideas. This young Argentine’s journey may be only just beginning, but his aims are clear: “I want to develop socially innovative technology that will be useful to society”.

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