• Friday, July 19, 2024
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BusinessDay

Deaf students build tech futures by coding in silence

MNIGERIADEAF group

In an apartment in Jos, Plateau state, students use sign language to communicate. These young people might be deaf, but they have learnt to code in silence thanks to Wuni Bitrus, instructor for the Deaf Technology Foundation ,DTF.

Without uttering a word but with intensity in their eyes and hand in constant animation, either brainstorming or coding using Arduino, a group of students gather around a cluttered table working on their latest project- building a “smart” fingerprint door.

This is a typical scenario at DTF a non-profit founded in 2017 to bridge the digital gap for deaf Nigerians. The foundation give deaf students a shot at tech by equipping them with robotics skills, computer programming and career guidance, building a future were deafness is not a barrier.

Bitrus started DTF after witnessing the challenges faced by members of the deaf community during his national youth service. He was inspired by the experience of a deaf student to co-found DTF and got funding from various sources including Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT in America to empower deaf people.

The foundation gives hope to  women like Mercy Samson Grimah, aka, ‘Mama Robotics’ who is an aspiring computer scientist. “”They just see us as lesser human beings,” she told The Christian Science Monitor. “ Mama Robotics” went from suffering isolation and prejudice because she was deaf to an inspiration who is on he way to becoming a woman in tech.

Mercy Sale, another student at DTF was told that her deafness made her unqualified to study computer science, but she is now pursuing web development at the foundation, another student Joy Yusuf was denied admission to study medicine because of her disability, but her story has changed as she is now studying to become a web developer.

DTF is currently struggling to keep the dreams of these students alive due to lack of funding. With just two paid instructors and student volunteers, it is difficult to keep up with the growing student body. DTF currently has three Jos clubs and additional locations in Zamfara and Abuja.

DTF has not given up hope, and plan to leverage Nigeria’s tech boom, particularly in robotics, by collaborating with companies in the country on self-driving car technology and automated wheelchairs to drive the growth and financial well being of DTF.

Lengdung Tungchamma, a DTF collaborator, who also spoke to The Christian Science Monitor summarises it all. “Deaf Tech doesn’t see disability as a dead end, it gives hope.”