How DeafTawk is building the Google Translate for the deaf community

In this #MeetTheMB100 interview, Ali Shabbar, CEO of DeafTawk, explains how their 24/7 sign language interpretation service is allowing the deaf community to live and access services like the rest of society.

This interview series is sponsored by EY and Hogan Lovells.

Meaningful Business (MB): Can you tell us a bit about the issues you are trying to solve and why you selected them

Ali Shabbar (AS): There are 466 million deaf or hard-of-hearing people in the world. They have limited access to health, education, and employment opportunities because very few people understand sign language. For every 8,000 deaf people, there is just one sign language interpreter.


Our reason for addressing these issues stems from the fact that all of us founders are people with some disability and we have all faced barriers in our day-to-day lives. Being deaf, we know how secluded we are from mainstream society. I faced a challenge going to school in my own community, and university education was just a dream unless I moved to a more inclusive society.



Ali Shabbar, CEO, DeafTawk


MB: How is your work tackling those problems, and what impact are you having?

AS: DeafTawk aims to bridge the communication gap between deaf communities and the rest of society. We offer 24/7 sign language interpretation services to everyone and anyone who needs it. We do it through our pool of sign language interpreters based all around the globe as well as an AI Bot which provides real-time text-to-sign language interpretation through our app.


Our expert sign language interpreters offer services for every possible scenario or need. For example, we can conduct real-time interpretation in a classroom teaching a specialised curriculum; in a medical centre where patients are seeking medical support and treatment; in a superstore for shopping, or in a job interview setting. We also offer support for general communication with family, friends, and colleagues.


We want to build an inclusive world where everyone ‘speaks’ everyone’s language, can communicate with each other and get access to basic facilities that are the right of every human. This service is creating a lasting impact in the communities we operate in. Young graduates are able to find work and earn a livelihood, and access to medical services is much easier.


MB: What support do you need in order to scale your business and increase your positive impact?

AS: We dream to scale up our business by providing sign language interpretation services in as many countries around the world as possible. In order to make our banks, hospitals, schools, public spaces, restaurants and even our entertainment industry inclusive, we have to work with each and every segment of society to offer sign language services, courses and interpretations to make communication possible.

In order for us to scale our business we are looking for partnerships with mobile network operators, government endorsements, and access to as many public and private sector players as possible. We cannot do this alone and need other stakeholders to help us introduce our services to others.

We are aware that not all regions will have the same buying power, so another way to support us is to subsidise our services in these regions.

We also go to deaf communities to introduce our services, offering free introductory packages to make calls. Wherever we go we receive many positive responses. Having a partner contribute to this cost will make a huge difference and create a positive impact.

MB: How do you work with partners and the wider ecosystem to achieve your mission?

AS: We believe it is our collective responsibility to bring deaf people into society and develop that sense of belonging that is missing right now.

We partner with as many stakeholders as possible. We are open to suggestions and advice that will lead us to our ultimate goal of making this world inclusive. We are always looking for meaningful partnerships and often ask our partners to connect us with other players in the market.

We believe that this work requires healthy competition and we are not afraid to collaborate with our competitors provided our desired goals are similar and we are on the same work ethos.

MB: What is your ambition for the future of your business?

AS: We want DeafTawk to become the Google Translate for the deaf community, providing sign language interpretations in real time to general content on the internet. We want DeafTawk to become a household name for sign language communication.

We aim to make academic institutions, hospitals, and public spaces completely accessible for deaf users, allowing them to access all services meant for the public.

We know we have a long way to go in terms of making the world even 50% accessible in terms of sign language. That is why we never miss a single opportunity to introduce our business and services to prospective markets.

MB: How do you measure success?

AS: First and foremost, our measurement of success comes from the appreciation we get from our users once they start receiving our sign language interpretation services. Another measure of success is how our goal is transforming into the services we provide and helping communities become inclusive. We measure success through taking and responding to feedback, criticism, opportunities and healthy competition.


More tangibly, we keep a numeric count of our sales, our deals with B2B clients, how many hours of services we have delivered, how many new customers are onboarded, and the profits we earn.



Quickfire questions

MB: How do you spend your time away from work?

AS: I spend most of my time exploring new features, ideas, and learning something new that can help me understand and grasp what is going on around the world.


MB: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

AS: Don’t love your product. Love the problem you are solving.


MB: What is something you wish you were better at?

AS: Leadership and coding.


MB: What is the one book everyone should read?

AS: The Lean Startup by Eric Ries.



Discover the other leaders recognised on the 2022 MB100, for their work combining profit and purpose to help achieve the United Nations Global Goals, here.


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