TOULOUSE – In France alone, there are 500,000 deaf people, and that doesn't even include those who are partially deaf or have hearing problems. About half of deaf people in France are unemployed.
Among the innovative services Toulouse-based cooperative Websourd provides is an interactive news website in sign language and Elision (also called Visio), a remote communication service with sign language interpreters. This service enables deaf people to have one-on-one videophone calls with hearing people, with the help of remote live sign interpreters.
About 20 local public services, city halls, and sectors such as insurance, banking and transit) have adopted this technology. There are also special phone booths that use Elision, and the service is available from home with a subscription, with more than 900 individuals and businesses subscribing to the service.
"The market is estimated at 80 million euros per year, but we would need 4,000 interpreters, and there are only 300," says François Goudenove, director of the cooperative.
Job searches and avatars
In 2012, Websourd launched its new job search portal Jobsourd, which collects job postings, CVs and sells services to recruiters. Partner-companies, which include French telecoms and energy suppliers, aircraft manufacturer Airbus, defense contractor Thales etc. also have access to Elision.
Before the end of the year, Websourd will also launch– in partnership with state-owned broadcaster France Televisions – an online TV channel that will broadcast news reports in sign language.
The cooperative devotes 20% of its activity to research. It has just created an avatar sign language interpreter, who delivers messages on large screens in train stations.
"We are one of the first in the world to have developed this kind of technology and we hope to be able to export it," says Goudenove, whose goal this year is to raise two to three million euros. With a 30% growth per year, the cooperative achieved a turnover of 2.5 million euros in 2012, with 36 employees – of whom more than half are deaf or hard of hearing.