Hide video with translation into sign language
Switch to fluid-width version
Česká verze této stránky English

Paper details

Voice technologies have a power to eliminate physical disabilities - Sedláček, Ondřej (Polovina Nebe)

Ondřej Sedláček, Hanns Wilkenhoener, Daniela Rázková, Jan Uhlíř
Polovina nebe, Czech Republik


Physical disability may not mean fatal handicap anymore

Computer voice control programs have been used in many countries and languages for some time. However, the idea of using them for systematic teaching of severely disabled people, who have to rely on others to help them almost in all aspects of their lives, is absolutely unprecedented in the Czech Republic and neighboring countries.
It was a member of our civic association Jan Nouza, professor at the Technical University of Liberec, who came up with the idea to prepare a proposal and implement this unique project called Duhový most (Rainbow Bridge). This is no coincidence. Professor Nouza and his research team have been dealing with speech recognition and developed, among other applications, three computer voice control programs named MyVoice, MyDictate and NEWTON Dictate.
Even the best ideas and intentions do not guarantee success and way from idea to its realization is not easy. In case of unique projects, which Rainbow Bridge undoubtedly is, the realization is tough. However, we are pleased to say even before the end of the project targeted on clients in Prague that the Rainbow Bridge project is successful in all respects. In fact, the project is so successful, that the lectures on controlling PC using voice commands spread to four other regions in the Czech Republic.
Rainbow Bridge – Hope for the disabled
The three-year project focuses mainly (but not exclusively) on people suffering with quadriplegia, paraplegia of upper limbs or other severe disability that prevents them from performing even the minimum fine motor tasks. Using new technologies based on voice recognition we try to eliminate the health disadvantages and enable these people work with PC.
In the Rainbow Bridge project we teach our clients, who are unable or have difficulty controlling mouse and keyboard. They learn the basics of essential computer skills. Each lesson of three month courses comprises of the lecture and the subsequent group or individual training, during which the clients practice working with PC using voice commands. Although the excellent computer voice control demonstrated by our lecturer Dita Horochovská, also suffering with quadriplegia, can be achieved only through a long and constant practice, our clients can cope with all common tasks on PC.
They can write and work with MS Word, Excel, surf the Internet, use e-mail, chat, read books, watch movies, all without the otherwise necessary assistance. They acquire skills that enable them to apply for suitable positions in the labor market according to their intellect, which is also extremely important.
There’s a First Time for Everything
Our decision to prepare the project was a step into the unknown. We knew how the voice-control technology worked and we had an idea of how prepare the lectures but until the start of a pilot lecture in October 2010 we were not able to answer the question of how to offer the courses to the target group and how our clients would react and participate.
We were fortunate that at the very beginning of the project we contacted the right people who helped us significantly with the recruitment of participants of the pilot course, which was crucial for the whole project. It was Mr. Vojtech Sedlacek, founder of IT teaching in a well-known institution for persons with disabilities, Mr. Jaroslav Winter, who gave us advice and a lot of space on his web portal that is focused on helping people with disabilities ( or Mr. Milan Boehm, who introduced our current lecturer Dita Horochovská to us. A major role in success of our project was the personal contact of project manager, Daniela Rázková, with Mrs. Jana Hrdá of the National Council for Persons with Disabilities, who herself was one of the participants of the pilot course. Many clients found us through the company NEWTON Technologies, dealing with speech recognition, which we closely cooperate with.
Along with preparations we addressed hundreds of organizations and civic associations and asked them to spread the information about our free courses among their clients. Given the exceptional nature of the project, we appeared in most of Czech significant media, including public television and radio stations that repeatedly informed about the project. It also turned out that perhaps the most effective means of promotion of our courses were and still are the participants themselves. They recommended our courses to their friends with disabilities.
Teachers and pupils
There is no sense hiding the fact that the project team itself has learned a huge lesson when alongside with teaching and technical support had to ensure smooth running of courses in terms of logistics (transport of participants including the donations of their fare), but also necessary services (lunch delivery from a nearby cafeteria). But more significant was the creation of friendly and trusting atmosphere, which overcame the usual initial skepticism of most of our clients.
This was successful. And it wasn’t only a matter of individual attitude to the course participants and their specific needs and habits. More important was to break through the barrier which was their disbelief and distrust in their own abilities. Important role in this was undoubtedly played by lecturer Horochovská, who is quadriplegic herself.
It is our great satisfaction, therefore, that all course endings were not simply an end of course, but there always was a bit of nostalgia as there is at the separation of good friends. That is why we try to keep these contacts for the future. Before Christmas 2011 we organized a meeting for all participants of our courses. Almost all arrived and we were lucky enough to see on our own how in a very positive atmosphere a new community of people randomly joined by the Rainbow Bridge project was emerging. When we talk about the community, let us add that our participants used this opportunity to exchange their email addresses and telephone numbers with a determination to remain in contact with participants of different courses.
Rainbow Bridge is a project to use
We also put an effort to provide the necessary technical consultation after the end of our courses. Many of our participants received a financial support for buying quality laptops (essential for voice technology) from municipal authorities after our intervention. We also try to help them during the search and negotiations for a suitable job. We employed one of the participants of the pilot course as an additional lecturer of voice control of PCs, another participant found a new job in the archives of the municipal office and as soon as the National Gallery in Prague provides a barrier-free access, she will start working there. Some participants have already earned their own money by rewriting hand-written texts.

For the full paper and presentation material as well as the record of the presentation please sign in.