Speech Accessibility Undertaking Goals to Make Voice Recognition Extra Inclusive


A brand new analysis initiative goals to make voice recognition expertise extra helpful for individuals with a variety of numerous speech patterns and disabilities. 

The Speech Accessibility Undertaking, which launched Monday, is spearheaded by the College of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Amazon, Apple, Google, Meta and Microsoft are all supporting the undertaking, in addition to a handful of nonprofit incapacity organizations. 

Speech recognition, which could be present in voice assistants like Siri and Alexa in addition to translation instruments, has turn into part of many individuals’s on a regular basis lives. However these programs do not all the time acknowledge sure speech patterns, significantly these related to disabilities. That features speech affected by Lou Gehrig’s illness or ALS, Parkinson’s illness, cerebral palsy and Down syndrome. In consequence, many individuals might not be capable of successfully use these speech applied sciences.

The Speech Accessibility Undertaking will work to vary this by making a dataset of consultant speech samples that can be utilized to coach machine studying fashions, to allow them to higher perceive a variety of speech patterns. 

“One of many teams that might profit essentially the most [from speech technology] are individuals who have bodily disabilities of many various sorts. And too typically, these are the individuals for whom the speech expertise does not work,” mentioned Mark Hasegawa-Johnson, a professor {of electrical} and laptop engineering at UIUC who’s main the undertaking. 

“Speech expertise depends on coaching information,” he added. “It is a man-made intelligence expertise, so it requires us to have sufficient information to have the ability to develop expertise that can truly work for individuals with a selected type of speech sample. And too typically up to now, we simply have not had sufficient details about the speech patterns of individuals with completely different sorts of disabilities or with completely different sorts of atypical speech patterns.”

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The project will collect speech samples from people who represent a diversity of speech patterns. Researchers at the University of Illinois will recruit paid volunteers to submit recorded voice samples, and will create a “private, de-identified” dataset that’ll be used to train machine learning models to better understand a range of speech patterns. Initially, the project will focus on American English. 

The Davis Phinney Foundation, which supports people with Parkinson’s, and Team Gleason, which serves people with ALS, will support the endeavor. Community organizations will help with recruiting participants and user testing, and will offer feedback throughout the project. Anyone looking to get involved in the Speech Accessibility Project can visit the website.

Many tech companies, including those associated with this project, have been working to make their products and services more accessible to all users. 

Google has rolled out apps like Lookout, which helps people who are blind or low-vision identify objects and currency, as well as Project Relate, which is designed to help people with speech impairments more easily communicate with others. Apple launched a People Detection feature in 2020 that lets blind and low-vision iPhone and iPad users know how close someone is to them, and updated its VoiceOver screen reader this year to support over 20 more languages. Facebook, now under parent company Meta, has worked to improve photo descriptions for blind and visually impaired users, while also rolling out automatic captions on Instagram’s IGTV, Stories and feed videos

Amazon has added various accessibility features to its Echo line of smart speakers and displays, such as speech-to-text and “Show and Tell,” which helps people with vision impairments identify everyday household objects. And Microsoft made waves in 2018 when it launched the Xbox Adaptive Controller, a device designed to help gamers of all abilities play, followed by the Surface Adaptive Kit in 2021, which includes a variety of bumpy decals to identify keycaps, ports and cables. In May, it unveiled an Adaptive Mouse, four Adaptive Buttons and the Microsoft Adaptive Hub for wirelessly pairing various input devices.

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