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Software that translates spoken words into sign language and vice versa to help deaf communicate being developed in Rochester



Rochester, N.Y. — Yamillet Payano from a young age was often a translator for her Spanish-speaking events.

She witnessed her parents facing a language barrier. “You have to rethink things that you and I take for granted, like how do I communicate in a store? How do I go about talking to my doctor?” she said.

Payano decided her translating days weren’t over, after graduating from college in Washington, D.C., and working in the private sector for a few years

With co-founders Nikolas Kelly and Nicholas Wilkins, they developed Sign-Speak, a software that translates spoken words into sign language and vice versa. “If we are able to integrate and think about accessibility for the deaf and hard of hearing, we will be bettering our economy,” she said.

Payano applied for and was awarded a cash grant from Google for Startups Black Founders Fund. “Black entrepreneurs across the country face disproportionate obstacles when it comes to raising the capital needed to get past that ‘We have this great idea. It’s working’ to ‘We have a full-fledged business that is going to take off,'” said Danny Navarro with Google for Startups.

Navarro said Sign-Speak was a perfect match for Google. “We often think about can we look at our technology to be used for good and you couldn’t get any more good than the work Yami is doing,” he said.

Navarro sees Sign-Speak helping people like his partially-deaf 12-year-old niece navigate the hearing world.

“She’s very hard of hearing now but the doctors confirmed that her hearing loss is accelerating well past the rate they anticipated,” Navarro said. “She’s now sprinting to learn sign language and trying to adapt to a completely different world. As soon as my niece called me to tell me about this, I actually thought of Yami. I thought of how happy and inspired I was that I knew people out there in the world that we’re working on products to help make people like my niece – their lives a little bit easier.”