Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Assistive and Accessibility Technology

Diligent readers may have noticed that dominant news bits concerning speech and language technologies seem to focus on the cost- or time-saving aspects it. This is understandable, as the big players (Google, Microsoft, Nuance, IBM) have made it their mandate to capture lucrative markets (call center automation, directory assistance). Application of natural language technologies elsewhere, e.g. where it's fun (in games) or necessary (providing accessibility for visually impaired users), seems to lag.
Not so this week. This week seems to shine under the assistive/accessibility technology star. Note Sourceforge project "Speak as Daisy" - a Microsoft Word plugin that enables creation of XML files with markup for speech synthesis or electronic braille generation. The plugin is said to be available in 2008.
Mac users with need for improved document read back in British English will rejoice over the improved Infovox iVox voices.
Philips and Elsevier develop a speech-enabled diagnostic system for Radiologists.
Behold Nattiq's USB Hal Pen, which allows blind users to use the company's accessibility features on any computer with a USB port without installation.
Of course there's some overlap with time-, cost- and money-saving technologies as well. The FBI has announced widespread use of Nuance Dragon Naturally Speaking dictation for report and interview transcription.
Lastly, here's an a propos rant against call center automation and frustrated end-users, a target group for speech and language technologies all too often neglected. Perhaps there's a lesson to be learned about usability by the "money savers" employing speech technology, taken from those that rely on speech recognition and synthesis for their daily needs. I don't know, but F-word spotting as a means for prioritizing frustrated callers seems like an acknowledgement of defeat.

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