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Skandalaris Startup Spotlight: ASL Aspire

Kim Wallner
June 28, 2024

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, students and educators across the globe were faced with the challenges of remote learning in an educational system built around in-person instruction. Those challenges were exacerbated for Deaf students and their teachers due to the lack of digital tools made for these students. Enter Fall 2024 Skandalaris Venture Competition winner ASL Aspire, which builds games to make STEM more accessible for K-12 deaf students and their teachers. CEO Mona Jawad (WUSM PhD) explained that while there are plenty of STEM resources online, they are catered for English-speaking students, and none provide the ASL integration that young Deaf students need. In talking with educators, Jawad learned that, unfortunately, this resulted in many brilliant kids failing classes, missing out on opportunities, and not entering higher careers simply because they didn’t have the right vocabulary to learn.

Realizing that there were no STEM resources designed specifically for young sign language users who wanted to learn, the team at ASL Aspire set out to change that. Their goal is to put holistic, joyful STEM learning in the hands of every Deaf child on the planet, with the hope of encouraging more to enter STEM careers. The ASL Aspire website gamifies learning through a collection of timeless classics and original science games that will keep kids engaged and excited to practice.

When asked about the biggest challenges she and her team have faced, Jawad replied, “Our team’s biggest challenge and privilege has been learning how to build *with* the community we serve, not *for* them. Creating a solution on my own as a hearing founder, even with familial connections to the [Deaf and Hard of Hearing] community, would never yield authentic results. Instead, our team hires Deaf leadership, allies with the community, and conducts frequent focus group and user testing sessions with members of the Deaf community.” The team partners with ASLCORE to ensure that the signs their website teaches are used by deaf ASL signers. They also work with Deaf scientists to promote signs that are actively used in STEM fields.

With 400 million deaf individuals around the globe, the ASL Aspire team has only scratched the surface of the educational tools they hope to offer. They are currently working on collaborating with different sign language organizations globally to expand their offerings past American Sign Language. Every country has its own form of gesture-based language, so the goal is to quickly integrate as many of them as they can to help even more Deaf students around the world.

When it comes to advice for students considering starting their own ventures, Jawad recommends, “put your product, in whatever form it is, in front of real users as quickly as possible. Even if it’s just a simple paper model, getting feedback from the people you are trying to serve will be your guiding light for development.”

The ASL Aspire team

Visit to learn more. Be sure to follow along on their journey to provide STEM education to Deaf students worldwide on Instagram:

ASL Aspire is currently participating in Skandalaris Launchpad – a 10-week program for startup founders and interns that aims to provide WashU students and recent graduates with valuable experience working in the St. Louis startup ecosystem.