Growing up blind in Turkey was not easy for 26 year old Duygu Kayaman. Selected as one of Massachusetts Institute of Technology Review’s 35 Innovators Under 35, this young visionary is changing the way the blind can see.
At the age of two, an optic nerve tumor took Kayaman’s vision. Despite being rich in culture and history, Turkey lacks some of the resources blind individuals in Western countries depend on. For starters, its infrastructure is fraught with potential peril. Sidewalks are rough with disjointed paving stones and pot holes making it difficult for blind individuals to navigate the streets. This, however, was the least of Kayaman’s worries.
The lack of educational opportunities for children with disabilities was an even greater issue. In Turkey, these children are often stuck at home. Kayaman’s parents refused to let her disability and Turkey’s lack of resources prevent her from learning.
Kayaman wanted to attend school with the other children. But having limited access to textbooks for the visually impaired, Kayaman’s parents would spend evenings and weekends with a tape recorder dictating her school lessons. Through her parents’ and her own dedication, Kayaman not only finished high school, but now is working towards finishing her MBA at Bilgi University in Istanbul. She also works as a sales manager for Microsoft.
Although Kayaman has managed to pursue her dreams and achieve employment, many blind individuals in Turkey are not as fortunate. This made Kayaman determined to share this gift with others.
Her parents’ homemade audiobooks inspired Kayaman to use technology to help the blind residents of Turkey and those around the globe. With help from members of the Young Guru Academy, an Istanbul-based organization and with the support of Turkcell, Turkey’s largest mobile phone operator, she developed an App for mobile phones. The App is called Hayal Ortağım, which translates to My Dream Partner. Its goal is to help the visually impaired with day-to-day activities. Like many modern Apps, My Dream Partner relies on location services to help individuals find the services they need, such as hospitals and restaurants. The navigation aspect of the App helps people find their way through crowded areas like shopping centers (subways and airports maps are in the works).
Not only can My Dream Partner help the visually impaired find restaurants by using location-based GPS services, it will soon alert participating restaurants’ staff when they have a blind customer, through the use of Bluetooth technology. The App communicates with the restaurant’s Bluetooth beacon, then is able to dictate the menu to the customer.
My Dream Partner offers more than just practical applications, it also offers text-to-speech technology, which helps the visually impaired stay up to date on news and editorial columns. The App also contains approximately 5000 audiobooks to help individuals expand previously limited educational offerings. The newest feature is the audio description feature, which allows movie-goers to have a synchronized audio description through their earphones.
The App is taking off. Over 150,000 Turkish residents regularly use the App, although this is still a fraction of the estimated 700,000 visually impaired individuals in Turkey. With help from the Young Guru Academy and Turkcell, Kayaman hopes to reach many more blind individuals.
“It is only recently that individuals with disabilities are being hired by corporate firms,” Kayaman states. As a result of people like Kayaman, legal protection and employment for disabled individuals is growing. “Managers simply did not know that a person with blindness or another physical disability could work in these [corporate] environments. My friends and I are breaking down those stereotypes.”
Apps like My Dream Partner empower disabled individuals by giving them the tools they need to receive a quality education and the resources to excel in day to day tasks. They are giving people a chance by reducing the limitations of disabled individuals, especially in the workplace.
Fortunately, Duygu Kayaman’s story is not unique. Young innovators and inventors around the world are making a difference every day in the lives of disabled, impoverished and underprivileged individuals and communities.
What challenge will we overcome next?