Apple And Google Among Tech Giants Pledge To Improve Accessibility

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Several major tech companies are backing a University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign project focused on improving the ability of voice assistants like Siri to respond to people with disabilities. (Omid Armin/Unsplash)

Some of the biggest names in tech are part of a recently launched effort to expand the accessibility of smartphones and other devices for people with disabilities.

Amazon, Apple, Google, Meta and Microsoft are joining a handful of nonprofits to support the Speech Accessibility Project, a University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign research initiative to make recognition technology voice more useful for people with various disabilities.

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Currently, voice assistants like Siri and Alexa and translation tools don’t always understand people with Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, and other conditions that can impact speech patterns. Using artificial intelligence and machine learning, the new effort seeks to address this disparity.

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The Speech Accessibility Project will collect speech samples from people with a range of speech patterns, which will then be used to train machine learning models.

All tech companies that have pledged to support the Voice Accessibility Project have pledged to use the data collected through the initiative to improve their voice recognition services, according to project officials.

“The ability to communicate and use devices with speech is crucial for anyone interacting with technology or the digital economy today,” said Mark Hasegawa-Johnson, professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, which is leading the project. “Voice interfaces should be accessible to everyone, including people with disabilities. »

This isn’t the first time a major tech company has tried to improve voice recognition for people with disabilities. Last year Google asked for help from people with disabilities by testing an app developed to better decipher the speech patterns of people with disabilities. And, the company worked with the Canadian Down Syndrome Society in 2019 to collect speech samples from adults with Down syndrome to program its algorithm to better understand their unique speech patterns.

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