The importance of communication
As the mother and principal teacher of my nonspeaking son, I know well the travails such a person meets when negotiating his way through a chattering world. I know also the transformative change brought into his life when he learned to communicate at 18 years of age. He writes about this in his book “Traveler’s Tales” which was shortlisted for a Gratiaen in 2015. He is still non-speaking but certainly not non-communicative. Currently working with many students with no speech or minimal speech we know how widespread this is. Chammi calls it the silent abyss. It is our hope that teaching children to communicate via Assistive and Augmentative Communication (AAC) will change this. Apps like Kathakaramu will go a long way to change the world for many people we hope.
The roots of the Kathakaramu App
In 1970, my husband Sarath was doing his PhD at the University of Minnesota and I was a library assistant at Augsburg College. I was recruited to teach Sinhala to a group of students planning a summer in Sri Lanka. The students were determined to learn to read Sinhala and no matter what I said about the complexity of our alphabet, they remained fixated. So I laid out the Sinhala alphabet and realized that there was a very logical pattern to it. I made a chart and gave the English equivalent for each sound and the students were able to teach themselves the alphabet.
In the 1980s, we were back in the US, this time with three children that I decided needed to learn the Sinhala alphabet. Using the chart, “Mom’s Rosetta Stone”, they were able to learn it easily.
In 2006, we returned to Sri Lanka with our son, Chandima who is a person with non-speaking autism. When we set up E.A.S.E. Foundation, Chammi needed to talk to his staff and students. So, using the our old” Rosetta stone”, I created a simple board fitting almost the entire Sinhala alphabet on to a 9x4 board. As we enrolled non-speaking students we taught them to communicate using this board. Some of them developed into poets and writers.
In 2022, our friends from Yaala Labs paid us a visit. They saw the board being used by the students and immediately thought of creating an app using that. “Kathakaramu” is the result of much R&D and many hours of work donated by their team to this project gladly.
We will give this app away free of charge to all those who need it. Giving a voice to mute people has always been our mission.