For people living with disabilities, living an independent life can be difficult. Simple tasks like turning the lights on or off, or changing the channel on the TV, for some, may only be accomplished with assistance from another person.
The emergence of smart home technologies, like smart speakers, have helped some disabled individuals gain more independence. However, for those with speech disabilities, virtual assistants like Amazon Alexa may have difficulties understanding what’s being said. Although, new technologies are being developed to help virtual assistants better learn and understand unique speech patterns, making smart home technology much more accissible to those with speech disabilities.
Voiceitt, a speech recognition app for people with speech disabilities, disorders, or impairments, has teamed up with Amazon to help improve Alexa’s ability to learn and understand an individual’s speech. The Voiceitt and Alexa integration makes communications and smart home control more accssible to people with speech disabilities.
How Voiceitt works
The Voiceitt experience begins with a simple training phase, allowing the software to better recognize an individual’s speech. After the user repeats a set of words and phrases several times, the Voiceitt app builds an artificial intelligence-powered speech model that allows the individual to communicate specific commands.
Voiceitt was founded in 2012. Co-founder and CEO Danny Weissberg was inspired to build the technology over a decade ago, when his grandmother had a stroke, rendering her speech difficult to understand. “The whole family wanted to communicate with her, but we just couldn’t understand when she tried to say things,” Weissberg said. “It was very painful and frustrating.”
When Weissberg noticed that his grandmother’s full-time nurse was able to understand everything she was saying, he realized that there could be a solution to the communication gap. “I began to think it could be possible to use machine learning and artificial intelligence to train software that would understand what an individual with a speech disability was saying.”
With the emergence of consumer-facing voice interfaces, the power of Voiceitt truly emerged. “We realized that connecting or integrating our technology with voice services like Alexa could give an individual independence in their life,” Weissberg said. “Suddenly, they have more options and are no longer reliant on a nurse or a spouse to turn on the TV and change the channel, to turn off the lights, or to play their favorite music.”
In 2018, Voiceitt was selected for the Alexa Accelerator—powered by Techstars and Amazon’s Alexa Fund—a program designed to support startups using voice, AI, and other enabling technology to transform customer and business experiences.
“We received incredible input and mentorship from all different levels of the Amazon organization. The ability to make connections with diverse product, business, and technology leaders within Alexa and Amazon enabled us to connect with the right people and really helped us get our service to customers,” said Sara Smolley, Voiceitt’s VP of Strategy.
“But the support went even deeper than that. Peter Korn [Director of Accessibility for Amazon Lab126] taught us a concept that has become central to our product’s design and development approach: the saying within the accessibility community of ‘Nothing about us, without us.'” It is that spirit of working with their users, rather than just for them, that drove development of Voiceitt’s technology, thanks to pilot program members like Grupp.
The future of voice
Of course, the journey for Voiceitt doesn’t end with today’s launch. “Both Sara and I see the world becoming more and more voice-enabled every day,” Weissberg said. “Everything we do will become more and more based on voice, because it’s a natural way to communicate. So as speech recognition becomes more prevalent in our lives, it becomes all the more critical to make speech recognition available to everyone. Our vision is to make all the power of voice interactions accessible to people who cannot use it yet need it the most.”
Today, people of all abilities can access voice technology like Alexa to drive meaningful improvements in their lives. That’s why Amazon is committed to innovating on behalf of customers and working with companies like Voiceitt to help make Alexa more inclusive and accessible for everyone.
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