Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, Meta and Google to improve speech recognition for people with disabilities

The University of Illinois (UIUC) has partnered with Amazon, Apple, Google, Meta, Microsoft and non-profit organizations on the Speech Accessibility Project. The aim is to improve speech recognition for communities with disabilities and diverse speech patterns that are often not taken into account by AI algorithms. This includes people with Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS), Parkinson’s disease, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, and other diseases that affect speech.

“Voice interfaces should be available to everyone, and that includes people with disabilities,” said UIUC professor Mark Hasegawa-Johnson. “This task was difficult because it requires a lot of infrastructure, ideally the kind that can be supported by leading technology companies, so we created a unique interdisciplinary team with expertise in linguistics, language, AI, security and privacy.”

To engage communities of people with disabilities like Parkinson’s, The Speech Accessibility Project will collect speech samples from individuals representing a variety of speech patterns. UIUC will recruit paid volunteers who will provide voice samples and help create a “private, unidentified” data set that can be used to train machine learning models. The group initially focuses on American English.

The Davis Phinney Foundation (Parkinson) and Team Gleason (ALS) have pledged their support for the project. “Parkinson’s affects motor symptoms and makes typing difficult, so speech recognition is a critical tool for communication and expression,” said Davis Phinney Foundation executive director Polly Dawkins. “Part of [our] Part of our commitment is to ensure people with Parkinson’s have access to the tools, technology and resources they need to live their best life.”

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