802 — E.U. casts a VOICE to the hearing-impaired

Sep 14, 2003 | Conteúdos Em Ingles

Through its VOICE project, the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) is developing awareness of voice-to-text (VTT) technology among users, systems producers and suppliers. The objective is to provide cost-effective help for citizens with hearing difficulties to expand their communication abilities, adapt to the surrounding environment and improve their quality of life. The European Commission has channelled more than €10 million into research on different aspects of deafness over the last 7 years.

“The number of patients suffering from hearing impairment is constantly growing due to increased noise pollution and to an ageing population. So far, apart from hearing aids, there is no remedy for deafness. Developing new therapies requires the best researchers from different countries and disciplines to work together in order to improve our knowledge of the hearing process and to identify the causes leading to deafness. This is precisely what the EU is doing through its research programmes,” Philippe Busquin, European research commissioner commented.

The JRC aims to stimulate internet use, placing emphasis on problems encountered by the deaf to increase the impact of technologies to transmit information and facilitate learning. VOICE is investigating speech recognition and developing user-friendly interfaces to translate the spoken voice into PC screen messages and subtitles. This can be performed for everyday activities such as conversation, lectures, phone calls and watching TV .

The JRC is collaborating with the Commission’s Enterprise DG, European standards organisation CENELEC and the European Broadcasting Union to develop standards and improve harmonisation of communications technologies. Reducing development and maintenance costs of VTT technologies , improving the quality of commercial products and helping to suppress “barriers created by novel information technology tools” are some of the goals.

VTT recognition packages enable the creation of documents without using a keyboard, offering facilities for the hearing, visually and physically impaired, as well as people without special needs. The JRC VOICE demonstrator turns voice-recognition engines into a subtitling system.

The prototype has been tested in real-life situations: subtitling conference speeches, school lessons and university lectures. The Information Society DG has requested the VOICE ‘one design for all’ approach to extend the benefit of JRC research to other forms of disabilities.

VOICE concentrates on technical aspects, comparing rules, standards, approaches and activities in different countries to encourage research in this area. The aim is to unify associations, industry, schools, universities and public administrations interested in benefiting from such research through an internet forum. This contributes to defining user requirements of the hearing impaired and others with special needs for information technology applications.

In Europe, 22.5 million individuals suffer form hearing impairment, with 2 million being profoundly deaf. In children, deafness impedes language acquisition and generates learning difficulties. In adults, if often leads to severe disruption of social links which very frequently results in depression. All together, in Europe, the financial cost of hearing impairment has been estimated to be €78 billion per year (based on average of €3,500 per patient annual costs for special education, speech therapy, hearing aids, physician and specialists fees, and other expenses).

Filipe Samora

Em Foco – Projecto