Microsoft’s neural voice tool for people with speech disabilities arrives later this year

At the 14th Skills summit, which begins today, Microsoft is highlighting developments and collaborations in its portfolio of assistive products. Much of this is around Azure AI, including features announced yesterday Like AI-powered audio descriptions and Azure AI studio, which better enables developers with disabilities to create machine learning applications. It also featured new updates such as more languages ​​and richer AI-generated descriptions its Vision AI toolas well as new textbooks that offer guidance for best practices in areas such as building accessible campuses and more mental health support.

The company is also considering a feature called “Speak for Me” that will roll out later this year. It’s very similar Apple’s personal voiceSpeak For Me can help people with ALS and other speech disabilities use a specific nerve voices Communicate. The work on this project with partners like the nonprofit ALS organization Team Gleason, and Microsoft said it is “committed to making sure this technology is used for good and plans to launch it later this year.” The company also shared that it is working with Answer ALS and the ALS Therapy Development Institute (TDI) to “almost double the clinical and genomic data available for research.”

Here’s one of the most significant accessibility updates coming this month The copilot will have new accessibility skills It allows users to ask the assistant to launch Live Caption and Narrator among other helpful tools. Accessibility Assistant feature announced last year It will be available in Insider preview for M365 apps like Word today, and the company says it’s coming to Outlook and PowerPoint “soon.” Microsoft is also releasing four new textbooks today, including a Mental Health toolkit. These tools “include advice for product manufacturers to create experiences that support mental health conditions created in partnership. [with] Mental Health America.”

Ahead of the summit, Jenny Lay-Flurrie, the company’s chief accessibility officer, spoke with Engadget to learn more about the news and share her thoughts on the role of generative AI in creating assistive products.

“In many ways, AI is not new,” he said, adding that “this chapter is new.” Generative AI may be all the rage right now, but Lay-Flurrie believes the core principle her team relies on hasn’t changed. “Responsible AI is accessible AI,” he said.

However, generative AI can bring many benefits. “This chapter opens up some potential opportunities for the accessibility industry and for people with disabilities to be more productive and use technology to enhance their days,” he said. He highlighted a survey the company conducted with the neurodiverse community around Microsoft 365 Copilot, and the response of several hundred people who responded was that “it reduces the time for me to create content and shortens the gap between thought and action.” Flurrie said.

The idea of ​​being responsible in embracing new technology trends while designing for accessibility is not far from Lay-Flurrie’s mind. “We still have to be very principled, thoughtful, and if we step back, make sure we protect the basic rights of accessibility.”

Elsewhere at the summit, Microsoft is featuring guest speakers such as actor Michelle Williams and its employee Katy Jo Wright, who will discuss mental health and their experiences living with chronic Lyme disease. We will also see Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum share how it is used Azure AI’s computer vision and generative AI to provide descriptions of more than one million works of art for visitors who are blind or visually impaired.

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