François’ strategy focuses on working with both deaf and hearing communities and on creating the missing bridges between these two populations to reverse of isolation and stigmatization. To fulfil this mission, François has developed an organization mainly composed of deaf people and based on two goals: Develop tools adapted to deaf peoples’ needs and empower deaf people in the workplace. Websourd is organized by the following divisions:
1) To fight against the isolation of deaf people linked to a lack of daily information, François has created a web portal with 30,000 visitors per month. By providing daily news in sign language deaf people are equipped with up-to-date information about the services available to them. Websourd employs a team of journalists to maintain the web portal.
2) To make sign language more visible and to enable deaf people to access the same level of information as hearing people, Websourd has developed and is spreading the usage of the first sign language interpreter avatar. The technology is already effective in a major train station in Paris (i.e. and will soon be used in 150 French train stations). The tool’s potential application is tremendous: There are hundreds of public places where citizens hear oral messages such as informative updates, advertisements, or urgency messages, whether in stations—train, tube, airport—or other public places such as commercial malls. A team of sign language experts oversee the design and implementation of the avatar tool and its training.
3) To enable deaf people to be autonomous in their public and professional lives—whether by making phone calls, accessing public services, or participating in meetings—a commercial team spreads the Visio technology (i.e. video phone calls facilitated by remote live sign language interpreters) in companies and public offices.
4) To recognize that the needs of the deaf community are continuously changing and evolving— a Research & Development team works on refining tools and developing new innovations.
Some activities, like the Visio, the avatar and the company trainings, are generating revenue which is 100 percent reinvested into Websourd, a social business. These activities make it possible for the organization to finance less profitable activities, such as the website or the R&D, and to guarantee that all the services developed by Websourd are accessible for free to deaf people.
François particularly targets his services and trainings toward companies and public services in order to change the perception of hearing people toward the deaf community within the mainstream workforce. He has been successful in demonstrating the interest of companies and public services in terms of their legal constraints, client relationships, employee satisfaction, human resource policies, and people development, such as company-wide complementary trainings. Companies have shown that they are willing to pay for the new tools, the interpreting hours, access to a sign language database, and the training, and thus participate in changing the perception of deaf people among employees and customers. One example of Websourd’s impact within companies is its trainings led by deaf people, which allow hearing people to learn 10 different non-verbal communication skills, honed by deaf people. The trainings uniquely position deaf people with highly valued skills that hearing people do not naturally have.
Already 40 companies are using VisioPro and the system VisioGuichet is effective in 30 French towns (i.e. in town halls, tax bureaus, and public libraries). François’ trainings have convinced 1,200 people that what used to be considered a disability can also enrich them with new and different skills. Spreading his model, François is negotiating national partnerships with some public institutions (e.g. with family allowances desks located in most French cities) and with large companies to ensure the broad implementation of Websourd tools and a change in sentiment throughout the country.
Reversing a pattern and shifting mindsets requires addressing not thousands, but millions of people. Aware of this challenging path, François has structured his organization to ensure the sustainability of his model while maintaining the quality of sign language interpreting. This requires greatly increasing the number of sign language interpreters in the world. François’ strategy to reinforce interpreting includes two steps: First, provide quality live interpreting under the current constraint for immediate accessibility; second, develop the profession of interpreting while setting quality standards. For the second stage, François is creating partnerships with all stakeholders, such as universities to spread the teaching of sign language, with interpreter companies to provide complementary trainings, and with job agencies to source unemployed people as potential interpreters and offer them a high value job. He is also supporting interpreters in developing their own interpreting franchises that work with Websourd (i.e. with the ambition of reaching one interpreting cooperative structure of 20 interpreters per French sub-region in five to eight years). Not only is this expansion strategy of Sign Language interpreters critical in enabling François to spread his model, but most important, it contributes to making sign language a common academic study and interpreting a job opportunity for a growing number of hearing people.
The potential reach of François’ solutions extends beyond national scale and he is currently working on projects at a European level. With four foreign partners in Belgium, Spain, Poland, and Austria, he participates in improving the training of deaf people, especially on new technologies. Working with 22 other partners across Europe, François continues to innovate for continued accessibility to communication by playing a key role in a European project on emergency phone numbers for deaf populations.
Websourd is centralized in Toulouse, which is considered to be the deaf peoples’ capital in France, and even throughout Europe, as it gathers a huge deaf population. This central location has contributed to placing Websourd as a cornerstone of the “deaf people Silicon Valley.” From Toulouse, François is well-positioned to set standards for high-quality accessibility and communication services for deaf people beyond French borders.