The 2016 State of the Speech Technology Industry: Assistive Technology

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Lingraphica recently added instant messaging and email capabilities and has brought daily news feeds into the devices, which range from its seven-inch minitalk model to its 13-inch laptop model.

"This is a very interesting time and our company is uniquely positioned," says Michelle Hart-Henry, Lingraphica's vice president of innovation, sales, and marketing, pointing to the health figures noted earlier. The company provides devices to the speech impaired and speech therapy solutions for those recovering from health issues.

"The incidences of stroke have grown and so has the survival rate," Hart-Henry says. "Also, people are turning away from the long-held belief that there will be no further recovery six months after a stroke."

The cognitive issues will continue to grow as Baby Boomers age, Hart-Henry adds. "They are demanding these devices more. And if they're not demanding it, their children are. They want to stay on top of the evolving technology so that they have the tools they need to be successful."

Beyond the company’s traditional products, Hart-Henry expects her firm and others providing technologies for the speech impaired to become more involved with gaming technologies as well as with environmental controls and other tech devices that people use in their daily lives.

Helping the Hearing Impaired Connect Over the Phone

Though consumers today use their smartphones for plenty beyond traditional telecommunications, phone calls are still important for many, particularly when communicating with friends and family, says Olivier Jeannel, CEO of RogerVoice, which provides solutions to help the hearing-impaired communicate over the phone.

The technology interfaces with Google Voice to provide captioning for these customers. The market for the product is relatively small, with 1 in 100 people having some hearing loss and 1 in 1,000 having profound or total hearing loss, according to Jeannel.

With RogerVoice, the hard-of-hearing can use the phone to reach out to loved ones, for which the phone is still the primary communication tool—90 percent of all calls are to friends and family, Jeannel says.

Though much of the technology for the hearing impaired is based on providing subtitles to screens, a different technology in development is MotionSavvy's UNI, which will combine gesture and speech technology, enabling sign language to be translated into speech. The technology is expected to debut in the middle of 2016.

Ava, a group captioning tool using speech technology, is also expected to debut in 2016.

New, More Robust Technologies Aid the Sight Impaired

The visually impaired require technology that will read aloud text, and this capability is available today on most major operating systems, Black says. The applications have the ability to skip over advertisements and provide fast speech to quickly communicate screen-based text.

Nuance's TALKS software application converts text into intelligible speech; this application is tightly integrated with Nuance ZOOMS, a screen magnifier application that makes mobile handset content accessible to low-vision users.

However, some technology for the blind has advanced from simple reading of text on a screen to actual descriptions of pictures on the screen as well.

Chris Maury, founder and CEO of Conversant, who learned he was going blind four years ago, was dissatisfied with the technologies he found on the market because he wanted more than just text-to-speech. "I wanted to build something that I would want to use."

So he developed the SayKit software development kit (SDK), an Objective-C and Swift framework for adding conversational interactions to iOS apps. The SDK uses conversational speech, enabling the app user to simply say "search for…" rather than providing less natural voice commands.

"This will be the future of customer interaction," Maury says.

Conversant recently launched an app with Target, called Say Shopping, that enables users to say what product they want. The app searches Target's entire product catalog and enables users to hear about product details and customer reviews. Customers can order products for delivery. Conversant is working with Target to add in-store pickup, which will open up the opportunity for customers to shop for groceries as well.

According to Maury, the app has been used by half of the people who downloaded it. 

Phillip Britt is a freelance writer who focuses on high-tech, financial services, and other industries. He can be reached at spenterprises@wowway.com.

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