Project Understood, a partnership between the Canadian Down Syndrome Society (CDSS) and Google, is an initiative to improve voice technology that currently doesn’t always understand people with Down syndrome.
Interacting with technology in the future – when voice recognition is expected to largely replace keyboards – will require devices to be accessible to those with non-standard speech patterns, such as people with Down syndrome, says Ed Casagrande, chair of the CDSS board.
While Google brings its expertise to the project, CDSS is helping to collect voice samples from the adult Down syndrome community to create a database that can help train Google’s technology to better understand people with non-standard speech patterns.
But Google needs many more voice samples for the project, says Mr. Casagrande, adding the only criteria for volunteers is that they are over 18 years of age and speak English.
Mr. Casagrande knows first-hand the frustrations for individuals who have difficulty being understood by voice technology.
“We have a Google unit at home, and my seven-year-old daughter, like her brothers, likes to ask it questions or use it to turn on the TV – many times it can’t understand what she is saying,” he explains. “Today, voice technology is used for lots of fun activities, but in the future – when it helps you connect with everything from your refrigerator to your car – it will be a great equalizer for people with Down syndrome,” he says.
By partnering with Google on Project Understood, CDSS is ensuring the Down syndrome community is included in the assistive technology of the future and will be able to take advantage of voice technology as it becomes a bigger part of how we engage with computers, he says. “This is just one of many projects that CDSS is a part of to create supports for every life stage for individuals with Down syndrome. Donors' financial support helps to advance our mission.”
For more about Project Understood and how to contribute to the voice database: projectunderstood.ca
To support CDSS, visit CDSS.ca/donate
Produced by Randall Anthony Communications. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved in its creation.