4 Powerful Ways Voice Technology is Improving Accessibility

Advanced technology and AI-powered tools have dramatically shifted our take on routine daily activities. And their role in improving accessibility for the elderly and individuals with disabilities has been profound and life-changing. Voice technology, in particular, is making new waves in this area. It’s improving accessibility and the overall quality of life in ways that may have only resembled sci-fi fiction just a couple of decades back.

Let’s look at 4 powerful ways voice technology is transforming the lives of those experiencing a disability.

1. Voice search

Voice search technology hasn’t just simplified search activities for regular text-based users. It has also enabled search engines like Google to offer their services to a wider segment of the population, including those with visual impairments and mobility restrictions. For these users, voice technology is giving them improved access to essential information. It’s not only recognizing voice-based search requests but also providing search results with voice output.

This is a life-altering facility for many individuals. Whether they want to know the temperature outside, the nearest Italian restaurant, or the meaning of AI-powered voice technology, they are no longer limited by a keyboard. A simple voice query could be all they need to retrieve information in the form of question and answer.

This spells a new level of accessibility with a profound impact on a variety of areas, from improved safety and independence to greater accessibility to learning.

2. AI-powered voice assistants

According to Juniper Research, voice assistants will outnumber the human population by 2024 with 8.4 billion devices. That’s an incredible 113% increase from 2020.

For those with a disability, products like Google Home and Alexa could be particularly empowering when it comes to reducing dependence on others. When coupled with compatible home devices, AI-powered voice assistants can help perform a multitude of activities for those with limited mobility. For example, you could switch on lights, adjust the thermostats, pre-heat the oven, and lock the front door, all with a voice command.

And it’s not just about the functions they perform. Voice technology can dramatically simplify the use of modern-day tech devices, which would otherwise seem beyond reach, especially for the elderly. For many of them, a simple voice command has a far greater appeal than maneuvering perplexing menus and buttons.

3. Voice-enabled patient care

The tremendous potential of intelligent voice technology has even drawn the attention of the healthcare industry. And it’s now used to provide extended support for those in inpatient care and assisted and independent living arrangements. For instance, in some hospitals, voice technology helps remind patients to take medication and answers their routine questions.

Home health companions like Pillo are taking this a step further by storing medication, dispensing them with voice reminders, asking automated check-in questions, and keeping caregivers informed. These types of features are especially useful for the elderly and those with diseases like Alzheimer’s.

And they are showing unexpected benefits, too. For example, according to one study, using smart speakers for just 6 months led to a 44% decline in depression scores among elderly residents.

Hospitals are also using automated voice calls to provide a variety of services. For instance, they remind patients to schedule their next appointment and provide essential information to prepare ahead of medical procedures. Some are even applying voice technology to provide instructions and self-care guidance. Mayo Clinic’s First Aid skill, for example, allows you to access first aid information on a variety of topics with voice commands on Alexa.

4. Voice-based diagnostic tools

Researchers are now using voice recognition technology to detect abnormalities in voice biomarkers like tone, pitch, and rhythm. These could act as early warning signs of potential health issues and alert caregivers to take timely action.

Winterlight Lab’s AI-powered technology, for instance, can detect 500 speech and language features to analyze and identify cognitive impairment. And their digital biomarker for Alzheimer’s disease (AD) uses just 2 minutes of speech to distinguish AD from natural aging. And it’s doing this with an impressive 91% accuracy.

In partnership with Mayo Clinic, Vocalis Health is developing a similar diagnostic tool. It’s using voice biomarkers to flag pulmonary hypertension. And Beyond Vocal is using voice recognition technology to identify emotional and physical indicators using virtual private assistants.

These types of technology could dramatically improve the quality of life for the elderly and those with disabilities. For instance, they could help detect stress and anxiety levels from voice biomarkers and adjust smart home devices to create a more comfortable and supportive environment to help you relax. So, in the near future, your elevated anxiety indicators may prompt Alexa to automatically dim the lights and play some soothing music when you get home after a stressful day. It may even help detect an impending stroke and dial 911 before any visible symptoms appear.

Voice technology for an inclusive future

We’re still just seeing the early signs of the many possibilities voice technology may have on offer for us. But its commercial progress is already offering significant ease, comfort, and accessibility to those with limited mobility. And it’s certainly providing a glimpse into a tech-enabled future where AI-powered assistive technology is creating an inclusive and supportive environment for all, regardless of their age or ability.

(This article first appeared on The Urban Stuff)