CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) — Voice recognition devices are all around. You probably don’t think twice when using Siri on your phone or saying “Hey Alexa” across the house. Now, U of I researchers are making sure that technology is even more accessible for everyone.
It’s part of the “Speech Accessibility Project.” Simply put, the University is collecting data and sending it to big companies. The scientists involved have done similar research before with people who have Parkinson’s but now, they’re expanding it to have an even greater impact.
“We’re specifically working with the individuals with Down Syndrome,” Laura Mattie said. She’s an associate professor in the Department of Speech and Hearing Science and helping with recruiting.
She wants to make sure people with Down Syndrome have access to the same technology as anyone else.
“They may say it and it’s not getting what they’re saying which is of course frustrating,” Mattie explained. “The Speech Accessibility project aims to make speech recognition technology, or voice recognition technology, more useful for people with different types of speech or speech disabilities.”
Mark Hasegawa-Johnson, the lead researcher, knows this could be a game changer for people with dexterity impairments. That’s when people have trouble using their fingers to use the device.
“If they can just talk to the device and get that same information then it could really make life quite a lot more easy for them,” he said.
The research starts with an online form that asks for general information. Then, you’re connected to an online mentor.
“They will show them how to use the software. How do they get into the system, how do they record their voice,” Mattie described.
From there, it’s time to go and start making recordings for the research. After that, U of I teams up with companies like Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Google.
“Any researcher anywhere in the world can use this data to build better technology,” Hasegawa-Johnson said.
He feels work like this is all about equal, human rights.
“Everybody has the right of access to government services and access to education and access to employment,” Hasegawa-Johnson said.
Mattie agrees and hopes this will be the catalyst connecting communities across the country.
“This just opens more doors,” she said. “It will help with communication, independence, work, school and things that adults are trying to do with all of the technology we have.”
While they’re mainly focused on expanding their research to people with Down Syndrome, that’s not all. The team is also looking for people with Cerebral Palsy and ALS.
But, here’s the catch. Because of biometric laws in Illinois, people in the state can’t participate.
The researchers are relying on word of mouth and want to spread the word to others. Even if you can’t participate right now, it can still benefit you in the future.