Estrella Salazar, a 17-year-old science prodigy from a working-class community near Mexico City, was motivated by her sister to create an app to make communication easier for deaf and hard-of-hearing Mexicans.
Salazar’s older sister, Perla, was born with MERRF syndrome, a rare condition that affects movement and hearing. The 25-year-old has had more than a dozen surgeries and years of physical treatment, and one sign language school informed her she couldn’t learn to sign because of her disability.
Salazar, whose academic prowess allowed her to graduate three years early from high school, said she asked herself, “What am I doing to help my sister?” after witnessing Perla’s discrimination.
Last year, she began working on a software known as Hands with voice, that would connect MSL speakers with hearing users, allowing them to go from sign language to text or voice, and vice versa.
MSL interpretation for hard-of-hearing
Many Mexicans act as unofficial translators for deaf or hard-of-hearing family members due to a chronic dearth of trained MSL interpreters.
Estrella enlisted the help of nearly 90 people, including native speakers and translators, to create the Hands with Voice app, which she expects to release this year. As Perla’s movement has improved in recent months, the family has begun to learn sign language.
“I’m very proud of my sister,” Perla stated. “I’ve also enjoyed forming friendships along the road.”
Salazar’s love for science
Salazar teaches science classes near her home in Nezahualcoyotl, Mexico, 5 kilometres (3 miles) northeast of Mexico City, in addition to juggling app creation and university studies in biotechnology engineering.
“I believe it is time to change people’s minds,” Salazar told Reuters, “in order to be able to build a culture in which many children will work on scientific and technological projects in the future.”
Salazar’s desire to learn quickly outgrew what the teachers in Nezahualcoyotl, Mexico could provide, according to her. Salazar had completed her high school examinations by the age of 15 and was eager to put her newfound knowledge to use.
Salazar started a crowd-funding campaign on Instagram to cover the cost of the $3,500 camp. She estimates she’s 75 percent there with only a few weeks to go till she reaches her goal.
She is now looking for a university in the United States where she may continue her research on COVID-19’s neurological effects, both during active infection and following illness.