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Speaking with an Inclusive Mindset

Benetech, a non-profit tech company dedicated to creating inclusive tech for social good, teamed up with the National Council for the Blind of Ireland (NCBI) to produce a voice-powered smart speaker specifically designed for the visually impaired and people with print disabilities. Voice tech has long been touted as one of the most accessible ways of interfacing with technology, with the potential to enhance the lives of millions of people with visual impairment. And we're now seeing that hope materialize with initiatives such as this.

Erin Malana, assistant chief services officer with the NCBI, and Katy Beehler, product manager in global education and literacy at Benetech, will join us at VOICE Global 2021 on June 16 to discuss voice tech’s potential as a driver for inclusion, accessibility, and social good. They will also provide insights into their joint initiatives with the visually impaired and discuss their upcoming voice-powered smart speaker, designed for those who read differently.

Keeping the community in the loop

Together, NCBI and Benetech recently launched a pilot program to recruit 15,000 blind and visually impaired people. Their objective was to gather feedback on the feasibility of using smart speakers to deliver services. Designing for the visually impaired means designing with them. And while the goal is to develop a product geared towards the visually impaired, that audience is vast and diverse, so the end product needs to be as inclusive as possible. Voice is critical in that regard.

As Katy says, "We have members who are young students, and we have members who are seniors, and they may all share a commonality of print disability, but they don't necessarily share the same experiences. So that's what we like about the smart speaker and voice technology: it feels a little bit more inclusive from the outset."

The democratizing power of voice tech

Voice-powered smart speakers are also empowering because they're already affordable. Typically, money is a barrier to accessibility; you need to pay for the privilege of access. But that trend is being reversed here: the device's affordability promotes accessibility and inclusion. As Erin states, "Voice already is and will continue to be a game-changer when it comes to creating greater equity of access, but also overcoming all of those barriers that impede people's participation in society as well."

NCBI hosts a massive ebook library of over 950,000 titles and is deeply committed to enhancing the lives of the visually impaired. Combining that with Benetech's philosophy of building tech for social good and voice tech's inherent accessibility gives the visually impaired and those with print disabilities the opportunity to participate more actively in society. And we all gain from that.

Watch Erin Malana and Katy Beehler discuss how voice empowers those who read differently, June 16, during VOICE Global. Check the speaker lineup and join us for these and other engaging speakers across a variety of industries.

VOICE Global