His abilities. Their disabilities.
Mateo Salvatto
Posted on 16 Nov 2020
Categories: Other matters
Study for a British university degree in Geneva

When the rights of persons with disabilities are secured, the world gets closer to upholding the core values and principles of the United Nations Charter. Last year the United Nations Disability Inclusion Strategy was launched by the Secretary-General, enabling the UN system to support the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and other international human rights instruments, as well as the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, the Agenda for Humanity and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction. Inclusiveness is one of the four core areas of the Disability Inclusion Strategy, ensuring full accessibility for all when it comes to buildings and facilities, workspaces, information and communications.

Mateo Salvatto

A few weeks ago I discovered Mateo Salvatto through an interview on CNN. After running a quick search I found – besides a young 21-year-old entrepreneur – the founder of a successful organization that promotes integration and inclusion, recognized by MIT, speaker at TED Talks, winner of the World Robotics Championship in Israel, winner of the best social project in the world by the University of Beijing, with constant exposure in diverse and different regional online and offline media; and a person with a unique sensibility, focused more on the others than on himself. As a consequence of such a singular picture; it occurred to me to reach out to him to find more about his vision and initiatives.

Proudly Argentinean, Mateo founded Asteroid three years ago – a technological organization that develops software linked to the integration of people with disabilities. He pursues a very noble and ambitious horizon, using technology to facilitate communication for deaf people, people with brain paralysis, ALS, autism, people with Alzheimer’s disease and people with no mobility.

One of the platforms that respond to Asteroid is called “Hablalo”. It is a free app, which –as of today– has 162,000 downloads from 53 countries on 5 continents, and is a global success. People with communication disabilities can access the application and comfortably communicate with their peers, while stores and public offices can contract “Háblalo for Business” –the corporate version of the app– and become truly inclusive for a very affordable monthly subscription.

Mateo pointed out to me that “According to the WHO, 15% (1 billion) of the world’s population has a disability. Of that 15%, 7.9% have a communication disability; therefore, “Hablalo” has the potential to assist 500 million people for free. Too many people are not aware of the problems that people with a disability have to communicate – for example – because of deafness. Not understanding what the person in front of you means complicates everything: from learning at school to ordering food in a restaurant. Through this app, people can subtitle the world around and let the phone speak for themselves”.

The application uses Google’s natural language processing tool and offers a user interface specially designed for the needs of disabled people – as it has pictograms and shortcuts to facilitate its use. 

I found out that the latest version of “Hablalo” allows subtitling in 59 languages of anything that can be picked up by the phone’s microphone and saying aloud anything that the user writes. If you cannot read and write, you can use the image communication system.

He shared with me that during the process of creating the app, he was assisted and advised by deaf people. In time, this advisory process became a constant and not only by deaf people but also people with other types of disabilities who started to test and criticize the app before each version was launched.

Besides “Hablalo”, I was very pleased to discover that all Asteroid’s initiatives are aimed at ensuring that the end-user does not have to pay anything. And even more, that –in return– he/she does not have to be invaded by advertising. It is a model that seeks to involve more the participation of the private and public sectors, so people with disabilities can be assured of independent and fair life.

Having already the ability to create solutions, having his team and the media on his side, Mateo revealed to me that “the objective is to make contact with the people who develop public policies so they can facilitate and promote integration in the societies they represent and create a fairer and more inclusive world”.

When I asked him about one last comment, he replied: “I always say the same thing: I am only an example of what can be accomplished. I am simply a 21-year-old young man who wanted to help his friends, from the capital of a Latin American country with many structural difficulties and challenges. I managed to get started and make my way in the world of technology. Definitely, in the state our planet is in today, anyone can do it. My only comment is: Go ahead!; the world is in our hands.”

* Julián Ginzo is an Argentine-Canadian professional with 20 years of international experience within the private sector (banking, consulting, IT, telecom), the public sector (federal and municipal offices) and the third sector (NGOs for people with disabilities, homeless and refugees).