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Using Alexa is tricky if you have a speech disability. Voiceitt could fix that

Voiceitt and Amazon Echo help improve independence for people with speech disabilities

Plenty of people, myself included, often talk about speech recognition as a great, intuitive way of interfacing with technology. Whether it’s asking your Amazon Echo to set a timer, tell you what the weather’s going to be like that day, or find a certain song on Spotify, speech is something so natural and effortless that we don’t even have to think about it. We take it for granted.

But not everyone is in this same position. For those with speech disabilities, communicating with an A.I. assistant isn’t necessarily so straightforward. With that in mind, an Israeli company called Voiceitt, experts in speech-recognition tools for people with atypical speech, has developed an app for powering Amazon Alexa that’s designed to help solve this problem.

“Voiceitt is a speech-recognition app that helps people with speech disabilities or impairments use their own voice to communicate and be understood via machine learning and speech-recognition technologies,” Sara Smolley, vice president of strategy and co-founder at Voiceitt, told Digital Trends. “It can help users who have cerebral palsy, ALS, Down’s syndrome, traumatic brain injuries, Parkinson’s, stroke, multiple sclerosis, autism, or any other type of non-standard speech.”

The software — which adapts to each user’s individual speech patterns — has been built with speech-recognition algorithms and a voice database trained on atypical speech samples. It has previously been successfully trialed at a long-term care wheelchair community for people with physical disabilities. Non-standard speech can accompany motor control symptoms, making this is particularly welcome development since it could be useful to help people control smart devices by voice — whether that’s changing the channels on a television or helping in some other way.

“Many of our early users have talked about how this technology can help provide greater independence in their lives,” Smolley said. “They’ve emphasized that the integration makes the benefits of voice technologies more accessible and therefore more equitable. Standard speakers use voice technologies because they are convenient and fun — and our users are no different! We’ve noticed that popular commands and queries among early users include essentials like ‘turn on the light,’ but other popular ones are ‘Alexa, tell me a joke,’ or ‘let’s play a game’ — in other words, pure joy and pure fun. Which is how technology should be.”

Voiceitt’s app is due to be released in early 2021 on iOS. An Android version will follow in the second half of next year. It’s available to pre-order now, and will cost $199 for an annual subscription, with a 30-day trial period.

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