Voice Recognition Apps: The Best in Assistive Tech

graphic of audio wave spelling out 'voice'

In a Staunton Media Lab (SML) broadcast streamed live on April 27, Audio Director Coley Evans, President Steve O’Keefe, and special guest Max Cross discussed (and demonstrated on a Chromebook) their preferred speech-to-text and screen capture software, with emphasis on their usability by the visually and hearing-impaired. We’ve covered the screen capture part of the broadcast in our previous blog post, and this one will focus on speech-to-text/transcription/voice recognition apps.

Assistive tech tools need improvement

Advancements in artificial Intelligence (AI), and voice- and image-recognition technology are making the world more inclusive for the visually impaired, notes Andrew Williams writing for Alphr, “helping them to interact with their surroundings.” True, but assistive tech still has ways to go, and voice recognition apps are no exception.

In his recent article for the UK-based TechWorld, Terry Hawkins, head of B2B solutions at the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), urged businesses to follow suit of the likes of giants like Facebook and Twitter to make online tech more accessible, “to make them better for all users,” and the blind and partially sighted in particular.

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Screen Capture Software: SML Picks

In a Staunton Media Lab (SML) broadcast streamed live on April 27, Audio Director Coley Evans, President Steve O’Keefe, and special guest Max Cross discussed (and demo-ed on a Chromebook) their preferred screen capture and transcription software, with emphasis on their usability by the visually impaired, hard of hearing/deaf, and other uniquely-abled individuals.

Do you need screen capture software?

Screen capture software is a good tool for those who want to record video and take screenshots of their screen, share and edit images and video, and create add-ons like comments and shapes.

Screen capture software works best for, say, creating tutorials, though video capture software may be a better solution if you’re making high-quality video tutorials. Those two types of software are similar, but video capture software offers a higher-quality video end product, and you can control video formats and length better.

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The Latest Strides in Assistive Tech

screenshots of assistive tech apps on iphone

As we’ve previously discussed, assistive technology and accessibility requirements development and implementation have a way to go, and any strides tech companies, app developers, or any businesses make are met with enthusiasm and hope.

Assistive tech is for everyone

Assistive technology can help — and can be used by everyone — not just for the people living with disabilities.

Take ChromeVox, for instance. As Kim Krause Berg notes in her article on test-driving Google’s accessibility apps for Android:

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Listening to Data: The Promising Sounds of Sonification

What is sonification?

Turning data into sound, or sonification, has been in the headlines lately, fascinating as it is because, well, “music from space” is part of it. Our interest in sonification is also reflected in pop culture: Have you seen the recent X-Files episode, in which agents Mulder and Scully investigate strange noises seemingly coming from the skies, which Mulder describes as “God blowing his own horn”?

Of course, music from space isn’t quite that. In a November 2015 article by Rossella Lorenzi, published on the Discovery News website, “Hear What the Earth Sounds Like,” Domenico Vicinanza, director of Anglia Ruskin University’s Sound And Game Engineering (SAGE) research group, talked about the algorithms he has developed with his colleague Genevieve Williams, to “give a specific pitch and melody to each image sent back from the satellite.”

“Sonification gives space research a new dimension. When you hear the resulting music you really are hearing the data,” commented Vicinanza, who, in addition to being a physicist, is a classical composer.

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“Image May Contain…” – Alt Text and Other Breakthroughs in Assistive Technology

Sometimes the screen has to go dark in the middle of an important presentation to make a point. That’s exactly what Matt King did during his, to show others in the room what he sees. King is an engineer at Facebook, and is also blind.Facebook’s automatic alt text uses AIKing was presenting the results of the project he was part of at Facebook, an AI-powered tool, officially unveiled by the company on April 4.In its press release, “Using Artificial Intelligence to Help Blind People ‘See’ Facebook,” written by Shaomei Wu, Software Engineer and Hermes Pique, Software Engineer on iOS, and Jeffrey Wieland, Head of Accessibility, Facebook introduced automatic alternative text, or automatic alt text, a new development for its applications that generates a description of an image using object recognition technology.This is how the feature works, according to the press release:

People using screen readers on iOS devices will hear a list of items a photo may contain as they swipe past photos on Facebook. Before today, people using screen readers would only hear the name of the person who shared the photo, followed by the term “photo” when they came upon an image in News Feed. Now we can offer a richer description of what’s in a photo thanks to automatic alt text. For instance, someone could now hear, “Image may contain three people, smiling, outdoors.”

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Chromebook Chronicles, Part 3

Staunton Media Lab (SML) has concluded its three-week workshop series on Chromebook via live broadcast on March 16. The workshop was held on Google Hangouts and streamed on YouTube. Chromebook is a cloud-based netbook computer with a WiFi connection and limited storage. Last week’s broadcast covered security, storage options, accessibility settings, among other features.

Below are a few key points that were covered this week.

Touchpad or mouse?

As MaryKatherine Feehan, SML’s social media volunteer coordinator, explained, the Chromebook’s touchpad has no left- or right-click button, so you can use a mouse, or you can try some tricks using your fingers and the touchpad:

  • move one finger to move the cursor
  • use two fingers to right-click
  • use two fingers to scroll it up and down the page
  • move two fingers left or right to go back and forward on a page
  • if you move three fingers up and down it will minimize the screen

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Chromebook Chronicles, Part 2

The Staunton Media Lab (SML) has launched a series of copyright-free workshops, first announced in February, on using  Chromebook computers. The first installment aired March 1; it was a disaster and the video was quickly removed. The second session on March 9 went much better. The Google Hangout on Air ran live on YouTube and the video is now archived there.

The live, online workshop included a live transcription window. Theoretically, hearing-impaired participants could watch the transcript unfurl live online. In practice, the transcription software had trouble keeping up with four different participants. The service used, http://speechpad.pw, is free and is still highly recommended by the Staunton Media Lab for the hearing-impaired.

In the future, SML is working to add live ASL to the workshops, so that hard-of-hearing participants can watch the ASL screen and participate in the workshops that way. SML is also looking at adding an ASL translation to the video after it airs. If you know ASL and are interested in helping sign our webcasts, please contact Steve O’Keefe today. Thanks!

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Chromebook Chronicles: SML’s Live Tutorial Workshop in March

During the February 24 broadcast SML’s Executive Director Steve O’Keefe introduced the new three-week Chromebook Chronicles tutorial workshop and online user group. The Chromebook Chronicles will be conducted in Google Hangouts on March 2, 9, and 16, at 3:30 p.m. ET.

Chromebook Chronicles is a live tutorial workshop/online user group on Chromebook accessibility and applications. It’s copyright-free, and will be moderated by O’Keefe.

The Chromebook is an inexpensive “netbook” computer that has very little storage or memory. It works to access applications in the cloud, such as Google Docs, YouTube, Soundcloud, Zoho, Microsoft 365, Facebook, as well as video- and audio-editing software. It is also Amazon-friendly.

“Cloudbook is a better name for it,” quipped O’Keefe during the broadcast, noting that “the cloud is ready for your business” and its improving performance opens up a “new world of accessibility.”

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How Can You Help?

Check out our tutes! SML has copyright-free tutorials on accessibility, assistive technology, video editing, audo editing, Chromebooks, and many other topics available at YouTube, SoundCloud and from the SML website.

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