Uses of Speech Recognition Systems for Disabled Persons
Today, thanks to technological advances, many disadvantaged and disabled individuals are able to use technology to make their lives easier and more livable. One promising area is speech recognition. This technology is at the heart of personal voice assistants like Siri, Amazon Echo, and Google, that we’ve become accustomed to using either on our smartphones or through a smart speaker in our home.
Speech recognition helps computers understand human spoken language and translate what is being said into a format that a computer can process and respond to. This way, a simple search for the local weather can be quickly accomplished simply by asking a question.
How Voice Technologies can Help People with Disabilities
Surfing the internet without a mouse and keyboard or an inability to use a touchscreen can be difficult, if not impossible. Similarly changing TV channels or even answering a phone call without being able to see or use your hands can also be insurmountable challenges for some.
Automatic speech recognition or voice recognition helps computers transcribe human words into a machine-readable language that can be processed by computers. As the technology continues to evolve, more powerful capabilities are being introduced, so that these devices become true digital assistants helping improve our efficiency and productivity.
However, while these devices are helpful to the able-bodied person, they can be a true life-changer for disabled people. Since speech recognition technology uses the spoken word as its motive power, it can be of extra benefit for those who have issues with upper limb mobility or eyesight. Moreover, speech recognition technology can also help individuals with speech and hearing impairments as well the elderly.
If you consider the estimated 15 million handicapped individuals in the US alone, with millions more around the world, the potential benefits of speech recognition are massive.
Speech Recognition Uses
Speech recognition technology can be used in a myriad of different ways to improve the lives of disabled people. Using a voice assistant powered device like a smartphone or smart home speaker, it is a simple matter to make a phone call. Once set up and configured, it only requires a command to call a specific individual by name or by phone number.
It is just as simple to send or receive text messages and even emails on a smartphone if you have the right apps installed and configured correctly. Speech recognition technology goes beyond communication, though, and also helps to improve efficiency. Setting reminders or creating shopping lists with an assistant is as easy as speaking.
Speech recognition technology can also be used on desktop and laptop computers through special software. Using this software, it is easy to dictate notes and more to different programs either sitting in front of your computer or walking around with a headset and microphone.
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How Speech Recognition Has Advanced
The benefits of speech recognition are obvious, but getting to this point has been a somewhat arduous journey. Speech recognition started being explored as far back as the 1950s, when Bell Laboraties created Audrey. Audrey was able to recognize 9 digits, which was not that useful. It took another dozen years for IBM to come out with Shoebox. This program was able to understand and process bits of sounds to come up with different clues that it could use to determine what was being said. It was not a simple process, however, and could be extremely time consuming. Leapfrog another decade and the Department of Defense got involved with the creation of Harpy. This system could recognize 1000 words, which is about the same as a young child would. In fact, it was to this benchmark that speech recognition was initially targeted. Over the 1970s and 80s, speech recognition systems started to make their way into a host of different children’s toys which could interact with the speaker in different ways.
At this point, the technology started to plateau, and we didn’t see any real advancement until 2010, when Google Voice Search app was launched. Followed one year later by Apple’s Siri, these technologies used the power of cloud-based data centers to improve data processing.
Over the past decade, speech recognition technology has gradually become significantly more capable and sophisticated and now demonstrates accuracy rates close to 95%. While the advances have primarily been powered by new technologies like cloud-computing and large data collection efforts, they have also benefited from the increased computing power available to individual users as well as the better hardware, which has helped to improve voice quality.
The Future of Speech Recognition
Speech recognition systems are continuing to improve in terms of power and quality. Today, many systems have the ability to navigate multiple different accents and languages and they are becoming more commonplace.
In terms of the disabled population specifically, speech recognition systems are an extremely useful tool that will only become more valuable as time progresses. However, despite its power and usefulness it is constrained by the apps and software that are available. This is an area that needs continued focus, as without attention paid to this area, the value of speech recognition will stagnate.
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