Voiceitt Makes Alexa Accessible for People With Disabilities
Working With Amazon, Leading Speech Tech Startup Opens up the Power of Voice Computing to People Who Need It Most
Voiceitt, a leader in commercial speech recognition for atypical speech, announced that people with speech impairments will be able to use the Voiceitt mobile app to access and interact with Amazon’s Alexa.
Voiceitt was founded with the mission to apply its machine learning and speech recognition technologies to help people with speech disabilities relating to stroke, degenerative disease, or developmental disorders communicate and be understood. Supported by $15M in government grants, corporate prize competitions and equity investment, Voiceitt built its speech recognition algorithms and expansive voice database by learning from people with atypical speech.
Leveraging the growing popularity of voice services and smart speakers, Voiceitt recognized the opportunity to expand its technology offering to facilitate not only in-person communication but also interaction with voice activated and controlled devices.
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“We’re excited to work with Amazon to bring the benefits of voice technologies to a broad segment of customers who, until now, may not have been able to enjoy these products,” said Danny Weissberg, CEO and co-founder of Voiceitt. “Voice technologies are increasingly mainstream, and this Alexa integration is testament to the growing awareness among major technology players of the importance of ensuring these technologies address the diverse needs and preferences of their customers, including people whose voices deviate from standard speech. Integration of Voiceitt’s speech recognition with a powerful service like Alexa further demonstrates Voiceitt’s value proposition in a rapidly expanding industry, and of our vision – to make speech recognition accessible to everyone.”
“We’re incredibly excited to work with Voiceitt to make Alexa accessible to even more people,” said Peter Korn, Director of Accessibility at Amazon Lab126. “We share the company’s vision to help people with speech impairments live more independently through voice. We were delighted to support them through an Alexa Fund investment and now through an Alexa integration via their mobile app.”
The announcement follows a successful pilot with Inglis House, a long-term care wheelchair community for people with physical disabilities. In the pilot, Voiceitt worked closely with Inglis’ Assistive Technology Team to help participants with cerebral palsy and atypical speech use Voiceitt and Alexa to perform daily tasks, such as controlling channels on their TVs or playing music, independently. For people with disabilities impacting motor control, the ability to navigate their environment and control smart devices by voice, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, can decrease reliance on human caregiver support, helping to maintain social distancing practices while also opening up possibilities for more independent living.
“Voiceitt takes the intuitiveness of Alexa and opens it up to an even larger population. It will prove to push beyond the boundaries of possibility for assistive technology while empowering its users,” said Dyann Roth, President & CEO of Inglis. “Due to lack of neurological and motor control, speech impairments are often accompanied by other motor control disabilities, making it difficult for some of our residents to do everyday activities like asking for help, saying hello to a friend, and turning off a bedroom light,” said Roth.
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Voice services, like Alexa, and smart home devices have increasingly demonstrated their ability to help people with disabilities rely less on the people around them. “However,” Roth explained, “commercially available solutions do not always work well for people with speech impairments, who may need them the most. Through Alexa and Voiceitt, Inglis residents and many others in our community will be able to access these innovative technologies, for the first time,” Roth said.
“Voiceitt’s integration with Alexa strengthens Voiceitt’s position as a leading provider of speech recognition for people with speech impairments,” said Sara Smolley, VP of Strategy and late co-founder at Voiceitt. “Voiceitt’s applicability can be extended from the voice-activated connected home to an array of use case settings, including care centers, disability organizations, elderly care facilities, and hospitals. During the worldwide pandemic, we empower our users to get things done by using technology rather than relying on other people, which can help reduce viral exposure. Most of all, the integration we implemented with Alexa demonstrates how Voiceitt can enhance independence and quality of life for people with disabilities, and those who care for and about them.”
Voiceitt’s first commercial product is a mobile app that facilitates in-person communication for people with severe speech impairments. It has been validated in several languages and with a wide variety of underlying conditions affecting speech. When the Voiceitt app is downloaded on a mobile device, Voiceitt offers an intuitive and highly personalized onboarding experience designed to accommodate the unique needs of consumers with dexterity or mobility impairments. Its network of international partners includes healthcare providers, speech and occupational therapists, researchers, and disability organizations in the United States, Israel, and throughout Europe, who participated in Voiceitt’s testing programs to help their clients communicate more easily with their families, caregivers and health professionals.
Voiceitt participated in the Alexa Accelerator, powered by Techstars, in Seattle in 2018 and is an Amazon Alexa Fund portfolio company. Additional investors include the AMIT Technion, AARP, Microsoft’s M12, Viking Maccabee Ventures, and Quake Capital. Voiceitt collaborated with AARP Innovation Labs to demonstrate and validate its products with aging adults.
Voiceitt is providing its product to a limited number of organizations and individuals through its Community Release, a program it launched in preparation for its commercial product launch in Q1 2021. To learn more about Voiceitt’s Community Release and to pre-order, visit www.voiceitt.com.
Michael and Wendy Orzel, a married couple from New York, requested to join the Alexa integration pilot because Wendy (who uses an electric wheelchair) could use Alexa, while her husband, Michael (who has cerebral palsy), could not. Michael told Voiceitt he wanted to continue using Alexa because it helped him in his daily life. Referring to the pilot, the Orzels said, “You have no idea how many doors you will be opening for so many people. We waited for this for so long; we thought it would never happen. This is such a wonderful gift, in so many ways.”
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