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Cireha – Augmentative and Alternative Communication

Dec 07 , 2017
UNICEF/UN0218161/Noorani
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On 08 December 2017, the UNICEF Venture Fund announced 6 new investments in Open Source technology solutions. CIREHA is among one of six new portfolio companies to receive investment. CIREHA is part of the Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) cohort and the Fund’s first investment in a company from Argentina.

Child using tablet

The Solution

CIHERA’s Head of Engineering, Shay Cojocaru believed in the power of expression and its importance to one’s individuality. So when he learned that some people cannot afford or access such communication aids,  we started investigating the feasibility of a free multi-language alternative. Luckily, the web has matured quite nicely over the last couple of years and now provides all the missing pieces to accomplish this fit, from text-to-speech, to service workers. What was left is stitching these pieces together. He immediately started searching online for programmers who would like to join the adventure, and was so lucky to find Akshat Gupta, Amberley Romo and Martin Bedouret to name a few, from which the journey began.  

How would you describe your solution to children?

CIREHA is developing Cboard, a communication board for children and adults who cannot communicate using their voice. A communication board is essentially a grid with pictures or symbols that users can point at to express their needs and thoughts.

You can find a great visual example here  of a communication board which does not need electricity and high-tech ones which can generate speech.

How would you describe it, if your audience comprised of subject matter experts and investors?

Cboard is a free and open-source augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) web application which features a text-to-speech function. It was made for a wide range of speech and language impairments such as cerebral palsy, intellectual impairment, and autism. It supports 33 languages and works on multiple devices. It comes with more than 3400 symbols from the Mulberry Symbol Set for creating personalized boards.

What is unique about your solution and how is it different from what currently exists?

Oftentimes, commercial solutions are too expensive and have limited language availability, which may render them inaccessible in many low-income countries. Our goal was to make Cboard a solution that works for everyone, everywhere. To accomplish this we chose the web as our platform, enabling us to provide Cboard on desktops, tablets, and mobile phones. There is no installation process, no purchase, just follow a link – – and you’re good to go.

Open Source

Why does being Open Source make your solution better?

Cboard started as an open-source project with no budget; it relied and still relies on volunteers from around the world. Contributions and feedback from programmers, speech therapists, and language translators helped shape the project to where the application is now.

The main advantage of an open-source project is that everyone involved actually cares, most do it in their spare time and for no fee, some identify with the project’s mission, and some care about the technology stack. The contributions and peer review from the global open source community have been valuable to Cboard’s product development.

Use of the Investment

What do you plan on doing with UNICEF’s Venture Fund investment and how will you use that to leverage raising follow-on investment?

UNICEF Venture Fund will impact the pace of Cboard’s development and overall quality. We plan on hiring freelancers who will help with proofreading translations, and programmers who will help with missing features. The application will continue to be offered for free and continue to be open-source.

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