The 360 million people who are Deaf or hard of hearing now have access to a multi-media, animated sign language app called Five, thanks to CEO Mateusz Mach. When he invented the tool as a lifestyle app for playful usage among high school friends, he had no idea that he was about to change the lives of people all over the world.
Mach was 18 when he designed Five. It was developed with the help of a group of freelance coders and launched in 2015. He came up with the idea so that he and his friends could send each other images of hand signals amongst themselves -- he cites rap and hip-hop artists as an inspiration. He and his crew would use hand signs to communicate silly and funny messages as well as causal but useful information like how far away they were from each other.
People who were Deaf or hard of hearing discovered and used the app. They started to come to Mach, thanking him and explaining to him how revolutionary it was for their community, for which there was no means of messaging American Sign Language (ASL) at the time. Mach told Business Insider he learned that many – about 80 percent – of people in the Deaf community do not possess the notion of an internal “voice” and so may not take naturally to texting as a form of interpersonal communication. Psychology Professor Charles Fernyhough, who has studied and written about the history of “inner speech” and the voices in our heads, concurs; he says that while Deaf people do often experience inner dialogue, it tends to be a visual representation of someone signing rather than an auditory experience or "voice." People with some ability to hear or who became Deaf after hearing for a period of time may have a combination of experiences when conversing in their own minds.
When Mach learned that his app could have a greater purpose and audience, he began working to secure funding in his home country of Poland. He "simply messaged almost every venture capital firm in Poland," traveled and won several startup competitions, and attracted a following on social media as an innovative young entrepreneur. By 2016, as a senior in high school, he had raised hundreds of thousands of dollars and he then broadened his team to bring on gifted designers and ASL experts who could develop better features for the evolving app. He has been on three Forbes “30 Under 30” lists for Europe: “Social Entrepreneurs,” “Dorm Room Founders,” and “Youngest.”
“Our product is the collaborative effort of creators, developers, graphic designers and most importantly, Deaf people,” the Five website states. Users of Five can choose signs, facial expressions and text to communicate. The signs are linked together into an animation and can even be sent over Facebook.
Watch Five in action in the video below.