The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign has announced the Speech Accessibility Project, a new research initiative to make voice recognition technology more useful for people with a range of diverse speech patterns and disabilities. 

The project launches with cross-industry support from Amazon, Apple, Google, Meta, and Microsoft, as well as nonprofit organizations whose communities will benefit from this accessibility initiative, to make speech recognition more inclusive of diverse speech patterns.

“The option to communicate and operate devices with speech is crucial for anyone interacting with technology or the digital economy today,” Mark Hasegawa-Johnson, the UIUC professor of electrical and computer engineering leading the project, says in a press release. “Speech interfaces should be available to everybody, and that includes people with disabilities. This task has been difficult because it requires a lot of infrastructure, ideally the kind that can be supported by leading technology companies, so we’ve created a uniquely interdisciplinary team with expertise in linguistics, speech, AI, security, and privacy to help us meet this important challenge.”

He adds that today’s speech recognition systems, such as voice assistants and translation tools, don’t always recognize people with a diversity of speech patterns often associated with disabilities. This includes speech affected by Lou Gehrig’s disease or Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, cerebral palsy, and Down syndrome. In effect, many individuals in these and other communities may be unable to benefit from the latest speech recognition tools.

With artificial intelligence and machine learning, technology companies can address the need for more inclusive speech recognition, accordion got Hasegawa-Johnson.  To support this goal, The Speech Accessibility Project will collect speech samples from individuals representing a diversity of speech patterns. 

UIUC researchers will recruit paid volunteers to contribute recorded voice samples and will create a private, de-identified dataset which can be used to train machine learning models to better understand a wide variety of speech patterns. The Speech Accessibility Project will focus first on American English.

In addition to Hasegawa-Johnson, the Speech Accessibility Project team includes Heejin Kim, a research professor in linguistics, and Clarion Mendes, a clinical professor in speech and hearing science and a speech-language pathologist. The team also includes several staff members from UIUC’s Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology, including information technology professionals who will build a secure repository for the de-identified speech samples.

Article provided with permission from AppleWorld.Today