Tech Giants Partner on Speech Accessibility Project

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The University of Illinois will be working with tech titans Amazon, Apple, Google, Meta, and Microsoft, as well as a number of nonprofit organizations, as part of the Speech Accessibility Project, the goal of which is to make speech recognition systems better able to understand people with disabilities or unusual speech patterns.

The Speech Accessibility Project will collect and analyze speech samples from people with several conditions that impair speech, including Lou Gehrig's disease, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, and Parkinson's disease, to train new artificial intelligence models. All voices collected will be anonymized and put into a dataset for training AI models to understand people with those speech impairments. The project is starting with U.S. English, though it could expand to other languages.

Nonprofits Team Gleason, helping people with Lou Gehrig's disease, and Davis Phinney Foundation for Parkinson's are also working on the Speech Accessibility Project.

"Speech interfaces should be available to everybody, and that includes people with disabilities," University of Illinois professor Mark Hasegawa-Johnson said in a statement. "This task has been difficult because it requires a lot of infrastructure, ideally the kind that can be supported by leading technology companies, so we've created a uniquely interdisciplinary team with expertise in linguistics, speech, AI, security and privacy."

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