Computer science grad develops communication technology for the deaf community in ASU classrooms
Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2021 graduates.
Dylan Lang lost nearly 90% of his hearing because of a condition called profound bilateral hearing loss, and he has personally experienced how the lack of resources impact the deaf community.
He was drawn to ASU for its entrepreneurial mindset, and it changed his thinking throughout his undergraduate career to find solutions to various real-world problems. The venture he developed while at Arizona State University, EqualComm, is an app geared toward empowering deaf individuals to bridge communication gaps.
Lang graduates this May with a bachelor of science in computer science through the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, plus a certificate in entrepreneurship and innovation. He has won a number of awards through the Venture Devils program run by the J. Orin Edson Entrepreneurship + Innovation Institute, including $25,000 through the Edson Student Entrepreneurship Initiative and $10,000 through the Amazon Alexa Venture Challenge. In 2021, he was a semifinalist for the ASU Innovation Open.
Learn more about him in this Q&A below.
Question: What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?
Answer: When I was younger, I enjoyed creating mods for my favorite video games. Seeing how a simple mod can modify the actions of a video is really fun to watch. From there I realized this is what I want to do for a job. I looked into careers in programming, software development and game design. I found this career path fun, rewarding and empowering. Now that mods are more widely accepted in PC gaming, it is fun to create and share my own creations, while also looking for inspiration from other creators.
Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?
A: The idea for EqualComm was born in the classrooms here at ASU. EqualComm is focused on eliminating barriers to information by revolutionizing communication technology for the deaf. When I was in high school, I did not have any support system for being deaf. At ASU I finally saw the accommodations I can utilize to support my disability. Being deaf is challenging in an educational environment because most information is relayed in an audible manner. I grew up hearing and speaking in English, so having CART (Communication Access Realtime Translation) is awesome. My class lectures are delivered to me in a text format with real-time actions, allowing me equal access to my hearing counterparts.
Here at ASU, I started the Deaf Devils club, which is aimed at engaging the deaf community while also promoting deaf culture and awareness. In my two years as president, I've met an awesome cohort of deaf students and community supporters. We have hosted events with deaf speakers, brought together the hearing and deaf community, and learned the importance of self-advocacy. Additionally, this club allowed me to learn American Sign Language (ASL) to conversational proficiency so I can communicate with members who are fully deaf. Learning ASL taught me how linguistically and grammatically different it is when compared to English, providing a learning challenge for students that are deaf.
One statistic stands out: 47% of deaf individuals are not in the labor force. Why? It is rare for employers and educational institutions to offer the support system ASU offers their deaf students. I have learned how important equal access is. ASU has taught me that I need to advocate for other deaf individuals like myself, while also creating innovative and novel solutions that support us.
Q: What are your plans after graduation?
A: After graduation, I will begin to focus entirely on growing my startup. This summer I will be working with retailers to get my products into thousands of retail stores across the United States. The goal is to continue to build revolutionary businesses that help create value for everyone and ultimately make this world a better place.
Q: What problem does your venture, EqualComm, solve?
A: Twelve percent of the U.S. population is deaf. One million Americans are completely deaf and rely on American Sign Language. The deaf community is disadvantaged in routine daily life. In addition, current solutions to captioning and interpretation are inadequate or cost-prohibitive. Forty-seven percent of deaf individuals are not in the labor force.
EqualComm aims to solve these problems. We see the opportunity to educate hearing individuals in American Sign Language and provide real-time virtual ASL interpreting. These solutions allow for the delivery of spoken content and conversation in a deaf individual's native language, ASL, while eliminating any chance of content being lost in translation.
Discover more about Lang and his venture by reading this feature in the winter 2021 issue of ASU Thrive magazine, and watch this video on the establishment of the J. Orin Edson Entrepreneurship + Innovation Institute.