Student Spotlight: Innovation to Bridge the Gap for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing

MBA Student, Eva Michalkova, has obtained an Ivy League diploma, worked for a former US President, has been a contestant in multiple beauty pageants, and has been a world traveler since the age of six. But what is her life’s mission? Eva’s goal is to empower, lead and support the independence and integration of deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals into the hearing-dominant world. 

When Eva was two years old, she was taken to an audiologist for examination because she did not respond to sounds. The results confirmed her hearing impairment – 99% hearing loss in both ears. Her mom became her rock and inspiration for Eva’s innovative career path. “My mom has been a huge inspiration of mine since I was a small kid,” says Eva. “When my hearing impairment was discovered, she did not give in, and she devoted all her time and effort to my personal development and spoken language acquisition. My mom is a truly capable woman who worked hard in silence to bring out the best in me. She was a leader who has shown incredible resilience during the most challenging times, and her determination over so many years has inspired me to be a resilient, responsible, reliable, and hard-working person.”

A few years ago, a visit to her audiologist led her on a path that would inspire her next career move: “I was handed a pair of the most advanced hearing aids, wired to a computer. They were so small — if they fell out you could accidentally swallow them  and not even notice. Increasing music volume, turning on ‘zen mode,’ setting up a restaurant mode, or pairing them with my iPhone —  I became a superwoman. I left the office so excited; I was blessed to have had my ears upgraded. But I also realized that not all people with hearing impairment are fortunate to communicate with their physicians so seamlessly and have the same advantages as I did. Therefore, my fiance and I signed up for two hackathons to address this obstacle and create a solution. That’s when the No F-ears mobile app prototype was founded.” 

The app was instantly popular and cleverly named to convey the idea, “No ears, no fears.” Its main goal was to dramatically improve the most important aspects of the deaf-hearing community experience, including booking appointments and doctor visits. A live chat tool facilitates a real-time conversation between a hearing doctor and deaf patient, simultaneously translating text into spoken words and vice versa. Since its launch, it has won multiple awards, including two international startup prizes: the 2018 Social Innovation Weekend Hackathon Award and the 2019 Social Impact Award in the Czech Republic.

The hackathon weekends proved to be a pivotal time in Eva’s career. “Both events provided us with a unique opportunity to meet new people and broaden our horizons. Executing an idea requires dedication, persistence, money, and time — not just a marketing budget. To solve the problem you have to know it from top to bottom. Innovators usually rise to the top as a result of substantial life-long expertise in their field, not from problem-solving in a vacuum.” Eva realized the problem was much more significant than just the communication barrier. Her vision could go far beyond a single app, so she created MIRAIO

MIRAIO is the world’s first go-to platform for all people with any hearing loss, at any stage of their lives. Unlike traditional organizations in this industry that communicate with their customers mainly through newsletters and blogs, MIRAIO connects with its audience through social media support with closed captions. The platform guides the viewer through real-life scenarios to ensure a successful integration into a hearing world. 

The global company has become even more popular during the recent pandemic. “COVID-19 and its stay-at-home measures have sparked a massive change in how deaf and hard-of-hearing people access information and healthcare,” says Eva. “The existing institutions’ traditional processes don’t focus on younger customers’ needs, use twenty-first technology, social media, or other modern tools and technology. We are the leaders, the advocates who speak up, and help both the hearing and deaf world move forward. We challenge the deeply-rooted status quo of the deaf society and its identity, and change the narrative of how people with hearing impairment are perceived in the hearing world” 

With the creation of MIRAIO, Eva was inspired to pursue her MBA with Quantic to continue to expand her platform and inspire others to become advocates for her cause. She knew she would need a flexible program to optimally fit into her busy schedule. “To succeed in the fast-paced business world, I aspired to obtain the business skills I needed to accelerate my career. I was looking for a solution that would be flexible with my schedule so I didn’t have to choose between my job and education — with Quantic, I could do both!” 

Eva’s goal is to have the global community eventually reach a point where deaf individuals can seamlessly interact with the hearing world and be independent, with no need for sign-interpreters. “The first and most essential step is to acknowledge the importance of inclusion and awareness of the deaf and hard-of-hearing community. Equity, inclusion, diversity —  when “hearing peers” use these terms, there is often a lack of understanding in regards to what it means to be truly inclusive of the deaf community. There needs to be profound and consistent efforts to make our voices heard, so that we can enact real change in this world.”