The number of Latinas in science and technology still needs to grow and one teenage girl is going above and beyond developing an app meant to help the deaf communicate and it’s inspired by her sister. Estrella Salazar is a 17-year-old science genius from Nezahualcoyotl, Mexico whose 25-year-old sister, Perla, was born with MERRF syndrome, a rare disorder that affects the nervous system and can cause issues with hearing and mobility. Seeing the difficulties her older sister has communicating, she was determined to find a way to help and began working on an app, Reuters first reported. There are more than 4.6 million Mexicans who are deaf or hard-of-hearing, according to the country’s statistics agency.
Salazar graduated three years early and was inspired to start working on her mobile app, “Hands with Voice,” early on, developing it so that it shifts from sign language to text or voice, Reuters reported. While her family has started to learn sign language as Perla’s mobility has improved, Salazar has credited the need for the app due to the shortage of Mexican Sign Language interpreters. While many family members act as unofficial interpreters, the community typically does not have enough certified interpreters.The app was developed with 90 participants made up of native speakers and interpreters.
“I think it’s time to change the way people think, to be able to create a culture where, in the future, there will be lots of children working on scientific and technological projects,” Salazar told Reuters. She’s staying busy not only developing the app, she’s also studying biotechnology engineering while also giving science classes near her home in Nezahualcoyotl, also known as Ciudad Neza.
While she has not reported a date for when her app will be complete, it is something that is needed in Mexico. According to Equaltimes, an independent news site, there are only 42 certified Mexican sign language interpreters, about 200 with a degree of training, and only about 150 informal interpreters which isn’t much in relation to the millions of deaf residents. In the last few year Nezahualcoyotl has grown to become a major commerce hub and has a population of just over 1 million. Bloomberg previously reported on how despite the economic growth, its reputation as an impoverished slum remains. Salazar’s work and determination speak to the fact that no matter where you come from, you are capable of anything.
“I saw my sister suffering and that’s how the contact with science and areas in medicine and my sister and family have always been that motivation in my life,” she told Nelyzabeth García in an interview shared on Youtube.