Jakarta. Meet Jerick Hartono, a 17-year-old student of British School Jakarta, who founded Volume Up, an organization aimed at bridging the gap between hearing and deaf communities.
Through Volume Up, Jerick was instrumental in the creation of JakSL, a smartphone application that can be used to learn Indonesian Sign Language, or Bisindo.
Since Jerick is deaf in one ear, he always felt part of both the hearing and deaf communities, which prompted him to become more involved in the latter.
"When I visited some deaf schools and orphanages, I often wondered how I would ever be able to become part of their world if I were unable to properly communicate with them," Jerick said.
That question motivated him to do some research, which brought him into contact with 27-year-old Laura Lesmana Wijaya, director of the Indonesian Sign Language Center, better known as Pusbisindo.
"I attended some seminars with Laura and people always asked me the same question: 'How can I learn sign language?'" Jerick explained.
In his quest to answer this question, he soon realized that there was a need for a portable sign language learning device. This gave him the idea of a smartphone application.
With Laura's help and the expertise of a software developer, Jerick used all his summer breaks and holidays to put the JakSL system together, which, since its launch on Aug. 9, has been downloaded by more than 1,000 users.
Jerick said that while there are many other deaf-enabled digital applications, the key difference is that JakSL can be used by both the deaf and hearing communities.
And since the app is free, it is also more accessible to those with limited financial means and cannot afford hearing aids.
"Many people have told us how happy they were to be able to surprise their deaf friends in learning sign language and it was very heartwarming. It was beyond my initial expectation," Jerick said.
"If two people have a common language, there won't be any language barriers," he added.
How It Works
So far, there are three levels, each consisting of 10 categories with 30 words. In total, there are 900 sign language words a user can learn through the app.
"Nearly 1,000 words is enough for basic communication with the deaf," Jerick said. "This app helps to show that sign language is not as hard as you think it is."
In time, he and his team hope to add more levels and update the digital features. The initial number of words is just to spark interest, though there are obviously many more words left to be explored.
The app does not only assist deaf people with day-to-day communication, it also allows hearing people to talk with friends and family members who are deaf.
"Deaf people are human too, and to be able to communicate with us, you need to sign. If you want to learn how to sign, you can open the app," Laura said.
Understanding Sign Language
Sign language does not work the way spoken languages do. Unlike English, which is considered an international language, there is no sign language equivalent.
"Sign languages differ from one language to another, and between islands. For example, Sumatra and Bali have different languages from Jakarta," Laura explained.
She said that if a deaf person from Bali tried to communicate with her in sign language, they might not be able to understand each other. So to avoid miscommunication, Jerick decided to only use Jakarta-based sign language for his app.
Laura said that while people still struggled to accept sign language 10 years ago, the situation has generally improved now.