A year ago I met a woman who lost her voice due to a disease. From one day to the next, she lost her human connections and closed into her inner world. Her story really touched me, so I decided to help her.
I was then inspired by a secret dream: to help as many people with severe communication problems as I could.
I created PictoVerb, an application for tablets and smartphones. It breaks down the communication and language barriers that speech-impaired people face. The system transforms universally recognizable symbols into fully correct audio sentences.
In my country, there is a contest for high school students organized by the Hungarian Association for Innovation. Contestants may apply with any innovative or scientific project, and the contest provides mentors to support the development process. It was a really great opportunity for me and PictoVerb, as I could get advice from two remarkable professionals.
I won that national contest, which sent me to participate in the 25th European Union Contest for Young Scientists. I was happy to exchange wonderful ideas with 126 participants, representing 37 countries. I was honored to win third prize.
After the national contest, I was also nominated for the Stockholm International Youth Science Seminar, which was organized to coincide with Nobel Week. The highlight of the week was a chance to participate at the Nobel Prize Award Ceremony and the Nobel Banquet. It was enthralling to see the audience gathered to celebrate and honour science. Beautiful opera performances written particularly for the banquet made the programme even more colourful. The lyrics of one said “Encourage curiosity in all our children’s minds.” The experience reminded me of my national contest. Wonderful people mentored us in exactly what we were interested in.
The greatest and most rewarding pleasure of all was seeing people smile after benefiting from my project. For instance, I showed PictoVerb to a couple who take care of their 25-year-old son. He is so severely impaired that he needs round-the-clock assistance from his parents. He is not able to stand up; his disease confines him to his bed. But when I showed PictoVerb to him, he started smiling. He pressed a button on the screen multiple times and the programme said “Thank you so much.” The happiness that spread across his face and on his parents’ faces was incredible. After 25 years of silence, this young man could finally say what was on his mind.
I have been able to see that exact same happiness in many families’ lives. They gave me a lot of motivation and also helped me conquer the obstacles I faced during the development. As I reached more and more families and organizations with PictoVerb during the year, I was able to learn more about certain types of congenital and acquired diseases, causing speech impairment.
My desire is to help even the severely impaired take part in the essentials of daily communication. PictoVerb adapts to the needs and capabilities of different diseases and is fully customizable. The application uses a combination of pictures to help users communicate and always forms grammatically correct sentences. Moreover, its user interface can be controlled not only by touch but also by simple head movements.
Before PictoVerb, modern technology did not offer any solution to speech-impaired people in my country. Unfortunately, other small countries and language groups have the same problem. My mission is to make PictoVerb highly accessible, helping everyone in need. I am proud to have a team that agrees with this mission, and we work really hard towards its realization.
Down the road, I envision PictoVerb as a family of easy-to-use products. Before PictoVerb, for instance, I wrote a web browser for a family member with a disability who is now able to surf the Internet with ease. I have learnt that if someone has a disability, that does not mean he or she should be limited in how he or she communicates. It just means that we need to adapt the world to their needs. And once we do so, and once we listen, we will see the power and value of their ideas and sentiments.