Raising the Floor News
Thotra, a new startup spun off from the University of Toronto, is preparing to release a system that processes hard-to-understand speech, such as strong accents, stuttering, and the effects of some forms of cerebral palsy. The system analyzes the stream of speech similar to how speech recognition is performed, identifies specific artifacts that make the speech hard to understand, and provides some remediation before sending the speech stream on to the listener. Thotra will be implemented on mobile devices and also in the cloud.
Software firm One Llama plans to release an app that will listen for sounds in the environment that may signal danger, such as sirens and breaking glass, then interrupt whatever is playing on the mobile device with an amplified version of that sound. This may be especially valuable to people with hearing loss, or cognitive disabilities that might otherwise restrict their ability to travel independently.
Nymi is preparing a new device that uses a person's unique 'cardiac rhythm' to generate control and authentication signals to computers, phones, kiosks, and all other compatible ICT products and services. The wristband picks up not just your heartbeat, but the entire audible pattern of your circulatory system, which is just as individual as a fingerprint. It transmits that pattern and other information, allowing you to log in and unlock whatever you want to use without having to enter a password or swipe a smartcard.
In rapid succession, the European Union and the US government have acted aggressively to advance the cause of accessible ICT. In Europe, three major standards bodies released their collaborative accessibility standard for a full range of ICT products and services: "Accessibility requirements suitable for public procurement of ICT products and services in Europe" (PDF).
The Global Initiative for Inclusive ICT (G3ict) has released another comprehensive report outlining where we are, planet-wide, in making progress towards full inclusion of people with disabilities in ICT.
Verbal, currently on Kickstarter, promises to provide voice-based access to email and the web via any phone, using speech recognition for input and speech synthesis for output. Given the billions of people worldwide who either have no computer or smartphone, or have difficulty reading text visually, this old-but-new idea may tip the balance to feasible inclusion.
Microsoft's 8.1 update to its Windows operating system adds a valuable search feature. App publishers can now tag their wares with accessibility features, and consumers can search for them by feature. This leaves the real impact up to app developers, since accessibility features aren't required, but it opens up a way to communicate that other app stores don't really have -- another step forward in creating a stronger market for accessibility.
Gartner, an international consulting firm with deep expertise in information and communication technologies, has issued an interesting report on accessibility entitled "Market Trends: New Technologies Benefit Employees and People With Disabilities” [link is to a press release; the report must be purchased]. Pointing to an already large and growing market segment that's looking for accessible products, the analysts recommend ICT companies adopt one of three strategies:
The US Department of Education's National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) was an early supporter of the idea of using cloud computing to advance accessibility. NIDRR continues to fund this work through its Rehabilitation Engineering and Research Center at the University of Wisconsin and elsewhere. Now it's established an additional center on Inclusive Cloud and Web Computing.
There's an interesting project on Kickstarter that uses typographic design to portray how text appears to people with dyslexia, like its designer himself, Sam Barclay. Barclay recommends the book (already almost triple its Kickstarter target with a November 28 deadline) for increasing awareness of what dyslexia is, and how it can affect the inclusion of citizens, business customers, and fellow students or employees.