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06/02/2013 - Let 2013 be the year of improved accessibility to education and public resources!

Improving an individual's quality of life is one of the most valuable applications of sophisticated text-to-speech (TTS) technology. Every individual is able to reap the benefits of intelligently applied TTS. Whether enabling a sufferer of Motor Neurone Disease (MND) to be able to gain further independence through improved access to public services, or indeed someone simply seeking ways to improve their productivity using their mobile device while studying or multitasking, multichannel text-to-speech offers a diverse range of useful applications. Speech synthesis is advancing at pace and we believe that it’s crucial that with each development, companies like ours consider and explore the ways in which TTS may be applied to everyday life to strengthen inclusion, enhance community communication and ensure access to educational resources and public services available to as wide a range of individuals as possible.

2012 was a fantastic year in terms of improving access to educational resources and public services in the UK through investment in speech technology. Working with leading advisory agency JISC TechDis - as part of the 'Voices for Learners' initiative to improve access to learning resources for disabled users - our team created two youthful and modern artificial voices available for free throughout the further, higher, and continuing education sectors, to support both students and staff. Similarly in Scotland, CereProc developed and continues to make synthetic TTS voices - delivering speech output in natural Scottish accents - freely available throughout the education system in a project named The Scottish Voice. Both of these initiatives aimed to increase accessibility of educational resources through synthetic voices that deliver text to speech via more attractive and engaging artificial voices with location specific accents.

Funded by the UK Government’s Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) and the Scottish government respectively, the initiatives serve to deliver synthetic voices that are natural and full of character, capable of displaying emotion and engaging users through regional accents. With resulting, more engaging text to speech systems being applied to support a number of practices that convert text into speech, CereProc has seen a significant increase in the uptake of TTS technology for many applications including increasing productivity, supporting individuals with visual or print impairments such as dyslexia, and improving communication for those who hold English as a second language.

Similarly, charities such as United Response are very determinedly driving forward accessibility with recent projects such as Easy News, the first newspaper designed to be accessible for people with learning disabilities. With participants reporting the benefits and enhanced independence these solutions bring, we believe it’s crucial to maintain momentum and improve accessibility further and across wider areas of use to inspire a substantial change.

At CereProc, we have the experience and technology to create artificial voices that challenge the stigma attached to using communication aids, across the education sector in particular. There exists a general unwillingness to make use of artificial voices and TTS technologies owing to the lack of engagement toward traditional synthetic voices that deliver speech output using stark and unnatural voices with unfamiliar sounding accents. At the core of our work is our desire to overcome these challenges through technical innovation. We have adopted a dynamic approach to speech synthesis, working with forward thinking authorities to enhance accessibility of resources and services in such a way that enables individuals to achieve greater levels of independence and improved user experience in today’s digitally enabled society.

Put simply we believe that accessibility is fundamental to the healthy existence and growth of the UK. We would urge governing bodies to push forward accessibility as a key part of the public sector agenda in 2013 and to support - or at the very least explore - text to speech and other advanced technologies as effective tools to improve accessibility to all public sector services and resources. Here's to the coming months, and here's to improved access to resources for all!