Improving communications and access to information for people who are blind or are visually impaired are goals for Audio Point and its new Voice to Text Service (VTS). Audio Point founder Brian Lichorowic said the adaptive technology began “with phone calls directly to my engineers!”
E-mail by phone has been available for several years, but it is sometimes criticized for difficulty in use by persons with disabilities. One focus area, said Lichorowic is with development of improved voice interface, to be compliant with Section 508 of the federal Rehabilitation Act. Section 508 requires federal agencies to make their electronic and information technology accessible to persons with disabilities.
The Maryland-based company hires people with disabilities, some of whom have been blind from birth. “We try to do what is right. It is not always about profit and loss,” Lichorowic said. The company also welcomes feedbacks from customers, to improve and make changes to its products.
The voice recognition program was developed over a period of five years. “We continue to tune and retune and to recognize the general grammar of the human interaction and it is getting better.” Lichorowic said the initial feedback on the service was “completely unsolicited. We have an area now on our web page that (users) can E-mail or call us to give us their ideas.”
VTS is used by dialing into a service, just like dialing an operator for directory information. Users have an account and a password for security purposes. Lichorowic describes the security as state-of-the-art.
The service can “be used on any phone, anywhere and at anytime,” said Lichorowic. No special software is needed on the computer or phone.
The service can be used in many ways. Set-up is easy and the program works in the United States and Canada. Currently it only recognizes English language but there are plans to offer it in Spanish and French.
The unique thing, said Lichorowic, “is the speech recognition to take people where they need to go.” For example, if a user requests information about the Atlanta Falcons, he or she will go to the top of the article rather than through non-text graphics to get to the pertinent information.
“It’s the voice commands that allow our service to do what it does. Like instead of clicking on a button that says ‘send’ the voice interface is to say ‘send’,” said Lichorowic.
It works concurrently with Web mail, calendar and E-mail notifications. Users keep their own mail accounts and E-mails are universally readable. “If you say send link or go to address book, it will go to the name or file. And the recipient will get the actual link from the sender,” he said. “So they’d be able to hear your comment.”
“The user can use and access their own feed. The user defines the content. That is what makes it unique to the industry,” said Lichorowic. Users get RSS feeds and will know how to access RSS feeds in two ways. RSS or Really Simple Syndication feeds notify Internet users of new entries on news sites, blogs, podcasts or other information sources.
“Our service is proactive and reactive. (It’s) reactive when you call in, go to web content like sports or key word politics. The same is with weather. It can be zip code enabled. People can call in and ask it to be read to them,” said Lic-horowic.
For example, a proactive user could ask for (President) Obama, any news that goes on the wire. The news service will say Obama and the RSS feed done in real time will have fast access to the posted document.
Voice Terminal Service plans start at $1.99 a month for 125 minutes. Annual plans and site licenses are also available and range from $199 to $499. Prospective VTS users should check to see if the service is covered through insurance plans. Lichorowic indicated that if the service is needed for a person’s employment, an employer should pay for the service under Section 508. Audio Point also has financial aid resources available.