Born of deaf parents, Thibault Duchemin, the start-up that dreams of a “100% accessible” world

The Oscar winners made him jump for joy. “This is the first time in thirty-five years that a deaf person is awarded,” applauds Thibault Duchemin, evoking the distinction of best supporting actor obtained by Troy Kotsur, on Wednesday, March 27, in Los Angeles. The Academy of Hollywood also awarded the Oscar for Best Picture to coda, which tells the story of a family of deaf New England fishermen, shaken in the midst of a social conflict, in general indifference.

« coda, it is not very well known in France, but it is the term used in the United States: “Child of Deaf Adult”, or child who comes from a deaf family”, explains Thibault, 30, who has lived in San Francisco since 2012 and himself “Not even CODA”, in Paris. “My parents and my sister are deaf. In the family, I was the only hearing person. » Growing up, the young man developed a keen awareness of “lack of accessibility” suffered daily by people with hearing disabilities. “When we are CODA, we are still deaf because we grew up in this deaf family, but ultimately our head, our senses, are ears. So we often act as intermediaries. »

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In Sian Heder’s film (a remake of the aries family), Ruby, the youngest in the family, plays the role of sign language translator. It is she who accompanies the parents to the doctor, who negotiates the price of the fish. She finally finds her calling: to sing. « I sing very badly Thibault smiled. What I tried to do was create technology. »

A graduate of Ponts et Chaussées and Berkeley, a specialist in artificial intelligence, the young engineer launched Ava in 2017 with a computer science student at the University of San Francisco, Skinner Cheng, himself deaf from birth. Ava (or Audio Visual Application): a voice recognition application with instant captioning, which allows people with hearing disabilities to follow what is being said in their daily lives: family meals, work meetings, etc.

“We were an essential device”

The founders are very proud. The app was used on the set of coda, to facilitate exchanges between the technical team, the director and the deaf actors, Troy Kotsur and Marlee Matlin. “Understanding group conversations is an absolutely essential need”, Thibault emphasizes. His voice algorithms are capable of transcribing the phrases spoken by the different interlocutors in less than a second. The participants follow the subtitling on their smartphone, including eye-for-eye exchanges thanks to an adapted visual: each one is identified by a color.

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