Accessible voice AI technology
Aug 09, 2021
7 MIN READ

How Voice Assistants Improve Accessibility

As awareness is growing, public companies, governments, and private enterprises are looking for ways to be more inclusive, including improving accessibility for people with different physical abilities. It’s no easy task to optimize a website, mobile app, or tablet to provide the same accessibility for people with a wide variety of needs. Some require specialized input of text, and others need communication without relying on a screen. 

According to the CDC, 61 million adults (26%) in the United States live with a disability. Making products more accessible for this underserved and largely untapped market is not only good business, it’s the right thing to do. One solution is to voice-enable products and services to eliminate barriers to entry. Voice assistants remove the need to input text, navigate a series of types and swipes, or access a screen. They offer a way for people to navigate phones, apps, tablets, computers, smart home technology, and the world around them with fewer limitations. 

By making their products and services more accessible to a wide range of people with varying abilities, technology companies have the opportunity to change lives for people formerly marginalized by their inability to access information and entertainment without assistance. Here are five areas where voice AI can make a positive impact for nearly one-third of the population: 

  • Employment
  • Education
  • Entertainment
  • Socialization
  • Independence

Accessibility needs that voice AI can assist

While many brands are working hard to meet accessibility needs, there is still work to be done. A six-month accessibility study of the one million top homepages by WebAIM revealed that 98% of web pages failed to meet accessibility standards, such as low contrast, alternative text, empty links, form labels, and document labels. Voice-enabled websites and voice search capabilities eliminate the barriers caused by traditional computer interfaces which require manual dexterity and visual acuity. For many, limited access to tablets, TVs, mobile apps, and smart home technology has been a barrier to accessing information and entertainment. 

98% of web pages failed to meet accessibility standards.

WebAIM

There are many aspects of accessibility that still need to be addressed, even as awareness continues to grow. Employment, education, entertainment, socialization, and independence are all essential elements of everyday living, and voice assistants are a possible solution to accessibility in these areas. Past accessibility devices, such as alternative keyboards, pointers, and portable word processors, can be costly and hard to come by for those with accessibility needs. Voice AI can help brands wishing to step up their social responsibility and contribute to the quality of life of a significant portion of the population. 

Employment

Employment, jobs, and careers are all necessary aspects of life and essential for living independently and providing the necessary level of care that so many with disabilities need. However, only a small portion of people with disabilities are able to work. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 17.9% of persons with a disability were employed in 2020. With the help of voice assistants, it’s possible to make technology more accessible so more people with disabilities can successfully navigate the workforce. 

Only 17.9% of persons with a disability were employed in 2020.

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

For example, tablets can be voice-enabled to provide hands-free, text-free access to many systems that are integral parts of working in an office. Websites and apps for important aspects such as meetings and emails can also be integrated with voice assistants to offer an easy and convenient way to interact with colleagues. Voice assistants are already gaining exponential momentum among consumers, and voice-enabling tablets, websites, and apps for the workforce could help people with all different capabilities. 

Interested in learning more about how voice assistants can be integrated with office technology? Check out our demo, “AI-Powered Voice Assistant for Video Conferencing and Meetings.”

Education

Education is a vital part of life for people of all ages from elementary school through college and beyond. For those on the younger side of the spectrum, a slightly stressful test can become an impossible obstacle. According to the National Center for Learning Disabilities, 1 in 5 children have a learning disability, making it difficult to process written information. College presents newfound challenges for those looking to expand their education beyond high school. Voice assistants offer an opportunity for brands to create products that are more accessible for those looking to complete their education.

1 in 5 children have a learning disability.

National Center for Learning Disabilities

Already many schools and colleges use online learning platforms. According to a report by Valuates, the global e-learning market size is projected to grow to $370 billion by 2026, showing that more students and institutions are demanding e-learning options for their courses. By voice-enabling these online learning sites, brands can provide access to education without the need to click a mouse, type on a keyboard, or read a screen. 

Entertainment

Accessibility for entertainment devices, such as smart TVs and mobile apps, provides a new set of challenges for brands wanting to meet people of all capabilities where they are. According to the CDC, 4.6 percent of people with a disability have a vision disability with blindness or serious difficulty seeing even when wearing glasses, which makes navigating a small mobile screen or tiny TV remote difficult. 

By voice-enabling mobile apps and smart TV remotes, companies can present easier access to games, movies, and tv shows, or non-visual-based entertainment, such as music and audiobooks, for those with a more severe vision disability. Already, 40% of adults use mobile voice search at least once a day, according to QuoraCreative, and there were 109.3 million smart TV users in the U.S. in 2020, according to Statista. Users of all capabilities are actively using voice for entertainment, and companies can expand their accessibility range and customer base by incorporating voice AI into their devices. 

40% of adults use mobile voice search at least once a day.

QuoraCreative

Interested in learning more about voice-enabling entertainment devices? Learn about SoundHound’s partnership with Vizio to voice-enable their remotes here, and dive into SoundHound’s partnership with Pandora to produce an in-app voice assistant in the video below. 

Socialization

Many disabilities limit a person’s ability to leave home, and therefore, many turn to the internet and devices to socialize with friends and family. Socialization is a vital part of everyone’s life. According to the Mayo Clinic, socialization can not only reduce feelings of loneliness but also helps sharpen memory and cognitive skills, increase happiness and well-being, and could possibly even help people live longer. When in-person socialization isn’t an option, technology has a responsibility to increase accessibility so all users can benefit from interacting with others. 

Socialization can not only reduce feelings of loneliness but also helps sharpen memory and cognitive skills, increase happiness and well-being, and could possibly even help people live longer.

Mayo Clinic

Through voice-enabled mobile apps, mobile phones, tablets, and webpages, brands can increase their accessibility on communication platforms. Instead of having to use their hands in a series of types and swipes to navigate an app or webpage or having to process text that may be eligible to them, users could simply ask, “Start a video call with Sarah” or “Answer the video call from John” and be instantly connected with friends and family, hands-free and text-free.

Independence

Being able to achieve tasks independently of caregivers is a vital aspect for self-sufficiency and increasing confidence, determination, and self-respect. According to the CDC, 13.7 percent of people with a disability have a mobility disability where they have limited or no use of hands and arms. 

Already, smart home technology is a growing demand for users of all capabilities, with 258.54 million smart home devices worldwide as of 2021, according to Statista. Everyday tasks such as adjusting the thermostat, turning on or off lights, locking or unlocking the door, or opening or closing the blinds can turn from challenges to achievements with the help of voice-enabled smart devices. Instead of reaching for and pressing a series of buttons, users could simply ask, “Dim the lights,” “Close the blinds,” “Lock the door,” or “Turn on the air to 72 degrees”, all hands-free. 

258.54 million smart home devices worldwide as of 2021.

Statista

The future of voice-enabled accessibility

Accuracy and responsiveness are essential elements of voice assistants, and many advances in voice AI have led to conversational interfaces that don’t rely on specific commands. These advanced voice assistants also have the ability to understand other languages, accents, and imprecise speech. While current technology can address many accessibility needs, future advancements in voice AI can help those with speech impairments. This is no small portion of consumers, as 5-10% of Americans have communication disorders, according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.

Even though advancements have been made, there is still a lot of room for improvement. The study “Investigating the Accessibility of Voice Assistants With Impaired Users” tested voice assistants’ accuracy and recognition of individuals with speech impairments and found a 50-60% accuracy rate. Future developments in voice AI technology could improve the accuracy rate and help many users access technology that can improve their quality of life and everyday tasks. 

Voice assistants’ accuracy and recognition on individuals with speech impairments was 50-60%.

There are many areas of life where voice assistants can create more accessible technology, including employment, education, entertainment, socialization, and independence. Mobile apps and devices, tablets, smart TVs, websites, and smart home technology all provide an opportunity to integrate with voice assistants and help people of all capabilities. Brands wishing to take more social responsibility and improve the well-being of a significant portion of the population should consider voice AI technology to meet their accessibility needs. 

At SoundHound Inc., we have all the tools and expertise needed to create custom voice assistants and a consistent brand voice. Explore Houndify’s independent voice AI platform at Houndify.com and register for a free account. Want to learn more? Talk to us about how we can help bring your voice strategy to life.

Kristen is a content writer with a passion for storytelling and marketing. When she’s not writing, she’s hiking, reading, and spending time with her nieces and nephew.

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