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Voice technologies like speech-to-text (STT) (also called automatic speech recognition, or ASR) have had a profound impact across the enterprise. From contact centers analyzing interactions with customers to automatically creating meeting transcripts, voice tech is a huge part of businesses today. In fact, in the recent State of Voice Tech 2022 report, 99% of respondents indicated that voice technologies are going to be a large part of their future plans. But something that’s often overlooked is the way that voice technologies are improving lives.
Being able to interact with one’s voice is creating improvements in accessibility and access to information for everyone, but especially for those who might have trouble using things like computers or smartphones. In this blog post, we’ll provide an overview of the top 7 ways that voice tech is supporting accessibility and inclusion today.
Top 7 Use Cases for Voice Technology in Improving Accessibility
Voice interface technologies have accessibility features that can be used by people with all kinds of disabilities. And because these systems are constantly getting smarter-with newly trained models- they’re able to add more languages and dialects over time, making them more accessible for people whose primary language is not English. Here are 7 of the top ways that voice tech is creating a more accessible world.
Text-to-speech is simply turning written words into spoken language. This can be used to help people who have trouble reading text on a screen due to vision problems. One of the main uses for text-to-speech is to make traditional books and digital documents more accessible. For example, ebook apps often have features that will read books aloud to you, making it possible for people who are blind or have low vision to enjoy these works, even if an audio version of the book doesn’t exist.
2. Voice Interface Systems
Voice interfaces-perhaps most famously known in the case of Alexa-can provide alternative ways to interact with technology. Because these systems let you ask in spoken language, and provide replies out loud, these systems can help anyone who has trouble with visual interfaces. The trouble might be because someone is visually impaired, which can make navigation using visual icons and written menus difficult. They might have cognitive issues that create challenges learning how to use these devices. Or they might be elderly and unable or unwilling to learn how to use a new cell phone or computer.
3. Smart Home Technology
Most of us take for granted being able to easily move around our homes and do things like turn on lights and answer the door. But for people with mobility impairments, all of these things can present challenges. Smart home technology is providing ways for people to control their home easily and from a distance. This kind of technology is often related to the voice interface systems mentioned above, with the control options provided by assistants like Alexa or Google Home. Paired with the right technology, these systems can help people with mobility impairments do things like turn lights on and off, answer their doorbell without needing to get up, open and close blinds, and even call for help in an emergency.
4. Real-Time Captioning and Transcription
Voice tech can be used to provide real-time captioning and transcription services. The options for this, as the technology has improved in recent years and moved to end-to-end deep learning systems, are nearly endless. For example, you might use a speech-to-text system to automatically transcribe what you’re saying and display it on a badge, as in this project by Deepgram Senior Developer Advocate Kevin Lewis.
A similar, commercial product is being developed by one of our customers, Badger. In addition to real-time captioning, transcriptions after the fact can also help some people. For example, classroom lectures can present a number of accessibility challenges, but using a system that provides transcripts of classes can help those students both during class and after. Jamworks, another Deepgram customer, is working to make education more inclusive and accessible.
For people who have difficulty communicating, voice tech can be a godsend. For example, if you are deaf or hard of hearing (HOH), you often have to rely on an interpreter to communicate with people with hearing. Even if you want to make a phone call, you usually have to rely on an intermediary service using a sign language interpreter or transcription service. However, by using speech-to-text and text-to-speech options, people who are deaf or HOH have more options for communicating, from purpose-built apps to simply using the speech-to-text features on one’s phone to jot down what someone is saying. In addition, there are a number of apps that can provide alternative and augmentative communication (AAC) options, which can be used by people with conditions like autism or cerebral palsy. These devices allow users to press labeled keys to create speech.
6. Workplace Accessibility
Voice tech is also being used to create more accessibility in the workplace. In some cases, this means creating systems that can be used by employees with disabilities. But it’s also being used to create more inclusive workplaces, by providing employees with accessibility features that can help them do their jobs better. This might include providing live or after-the-fact transcripts on meetings, tools like topic detection that can help people understand the important parts of long phone or in-person interactions, as well as the features discussed above, such as text to speech, depending on a person’s individual needs.
And finally, GPS systems have improved in recent years, but they can still present accessibility challenges for some people. Voice-based navigation can provide turn-by-turn directions that are easy to follow, even for people who can’t easily see a screen to follow a visual map route. This is especially true if you’re trying to get around an unfamiliar area, or if you’re trying to find a specific location within a large building-a case everyone needs technologies to make the world more accessible to them.
These are just a few of the ways that voice technologies are making the world a more accessible place for everyone. As we continue to see advances in this technology, we’ll see even more innovation and development around creating accessible voice technologies. The potential applications are vast and we’re only just beginning to scratch the surface of what’s possible. If you’d like to learn more about how ASR systems work, check out our ebook What is ASR? to get a better grip on how the technology works and the impact it’s having today.
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