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Google opens tech centre for disabled people

Google opens tech centre for disabled people

In a ‘search’ to improve the lives of people with disabilities Google has opened a research centre in the UK dedicated to making accessible advanced tech.

The initiative is the first of its kind outside America which sees the multinational technology company working with the Royal National Institute for Deaf People and Everyone Can to make life that bit more easier for disabled people.

Covering the story for the BBC technology reporter Paul Carter said the tech had the "potential to be significant" for people with disabilities.

"Technology now touches so many aspects of everyone's daily lives, but for disabled people it can literally be life-changing," he said.

"There's a saying in the disability community - 'nothing about us without us' - and it's great to see one of the major tech players embracing that ethos and creating a space to design products and services in a way that they can work with, and not just for, disabled people."

Google whizzkids are researching artificial intelligence and looking into “supercharging” accessible technology so it can be introduced into the mainstream.

One advancement is subtitling technology which started off helping people with hearing loss follow TV shows and movies, it’s now used to translate foreign language and unclear vocabulary on a number of small-screen and big-screen productions.

Rachael Bleakley, 35, has severe hearing loss, when she was younger she struggled lip-reading, but with the advent of mainstream subtitles things have become easier.

"Mainstream entertainment took on new meaning for me when I was a teenager and captions started to become standard for television broadcasts," she told the BBC.

"Captions communicate not only what is being spoken but also any useful background noises which help amplify the plot, such as [dramatic music] for building tension, or a [loud explosion] off camera which helps explain why the main character looks a little alarmed.”

Christopher Patnoe, from Google's inclusion team, said: "When people have equitable access to information and opportunity, everyone wins - but we know people's needs are constantly changing, throughout their lives or even their day.

"We know we have more to do.”

Google has launched a beta version of Project Relate, an app which can translate for people with speech impediments.

The programme learns how to recognise speech patterns of individuals struggling with their speech and helps them communicate. 

It transcribes speech into text in real time,repeating someone's voice in a synthesised voice and speaking into voice assistants.

Yvonne Johnson, 55, who has a speech impediment, helped Google with the project.

"I feel better understood - not just by unfamiliar listeners but also my husband - it's the difference between a meaningful conversation and someone just nodding,” she said.

Google asked a small number of people with speech impediments to test out Project Relate in November 2021.

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