Turkey is a tough place to live without sight. A dearth of social services and education for blind children means families often seclude them at home. Daily activities are riddled with peril: in cities, shoddily built sidewalks are littered with broken paving stones and sudden drop-offs. Gainful employment is a distant aspiration for many.
Duygu Kayaman lost her vision to an optic nerve tumor at two and a half. Growing up in Istanbul, she was determined to attend school with seeing students, but the lack of textbooks for the blind made it hard for her to compete. Her parents spent evenings and weekends dictating lessons into a tape recorder to help her keep up.
Those homemade audio books later inspired Kayaman to develop a mobile-phone application, Hayal Ortagim (My Dream Partner), to make daily activities easier for the visually impaired. It offers news and editorial columns through text-to-speech technology. Books, courses from the Khan Academy, and chess and guitar lessons are at hand. Location services help users find pharmacies and hospitals, and navigation systems for indoor spaces guide them through shopping centers; airports and subways are to be added soon. Also in the works is a function for restaurants: it will alert staff through a Bluetooth beacon that a blind customer has arrived, and then transcribe the menu for the patron.
Some 150,000 Turks use My Dream Partner, out of an estimated visually impaired population of 700,000. Kayaman developed it with other vision-impaired members of an Istanbul-based organization, Young Guru Academy, and the support of Turkey’s biggest mobile-phone operator, Turkcell.
Today she works as a sales specialist for Microsoft while studying for her MBA at Istanbul’s Bilgi University. “It is only recently that people with disabilities are being hired by corporate firms,” she says. “Managers simply did not know that a person with blindness or another physical disability could work in these environments. My friends and I are breaking down those stereotypes.”
—Ayla Jean Yackley
Watch this Innovator at EmTech 2015
Meet the Innovators Under 35