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'Frustrating' voice-recognition excludes disabled people

Friday, October 31st 2014 by Hannah Langston

Mainstream voice recognition engines such as Apple’s Siri are impractical as they don’t recognise different speech patterns, a speech and language therapist has said.

Rebecca Bright (pictured), who is also director at communication aids specialist Therapy Box, told Cable.co.uk the software used in mobile phones and tablets “needs to be developed with the broader audience in mind and take into account different speech patterns”.

“The mainstream voice recognition software is not usable for a lot of people”.

Ms Bright said one of the challenges for people with speech disabilities is using Siri or Nuance’s Dragon.

“Those engines were developed with able speakers in mind,” she added.

“We’ve observed patients having trouble using tools. They try and try and the tool still doesn’t recognise what they said. It’s really frustrating for them.

“Especially if speech takes more time because the muscles needed for speech need to warm up.

“After a person has had a stroke it takes time for them to speak and they might not be as fluent as they were before the stroke. For example, they might stop and start. So it’s more of a cognitive challenge for them after a stroke.”

Ms Bright also points out that the same people may have difficulties spotting mistakes made by voice recognition tools.

“Sometimes people with communication disabilities have trouble reading or writing so if the text is wrong they won’t recognise it.

“It’s difficult for them because they put a lot of trust in Siri to get it right.”

We put Ms Bright's comments to an Apple spokesperson but they were unable to provide an official statement.

However, they said that Apple welcomes comments and inquiries about the accessibility of their products and suggested the users email Apple with their feedback.

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