Dr. Rachel Levy
Just imagine opening your mouth to speak, but finding your lips don’t close when they need to. Your tongue doesn’t move where you want it to go. And strangers can’t understand you.
Unfortunately, this scenario is an everyday occurrence for people with motor speech impairments, which are often the result of cerebral palsy, stroke, Down’s Syndrome, Parkinson’s Disease, and ALS. Speakers try to communicate with others but fail to convey their message. Even smart home devices can’t understand them. A simple command like “play my favorite song” goes unanswered. This is a reality that many people with speech disabilities contend with daily, but Voiceitt is working to change that reality.
A Breakthrough Propelled by Love
Voiceitt is a voice technology startup and social enterprise based in Israel. Fifteen years ago, co-founder Danny Weissberg’s safta (grandmother) had a stroke. He clearly remembers the pain and sadness he felt because he could no longer communicate with her. Safta would open her mouth to speak, but the family could not understand her. The only person who knew exactly what Safta was saying was the nurse. That was Danny’s “eureka” moment: If the nurse could understand Safta and many others like her, then AI (artificial intelligence) could be trained to do the same. That’s when the idea for Voiceitt was born and developed in Ramat Gan, Israel.
Voiceitt uses artificial intelligence as a means of understanding non-standard speech patterns and converting them into easily understood speech and text. Currently, Voiceitt has a free iOS app with two main functions, interpersonal communication and smart home control with Alexa integration. The unique integration with Alexa allows users to communicate directly with Alexa through the Voiceitt app, making the interactions seamless and efficient. The app requires the user to train each phrase and use them to communicate with others and their smart home technology.
A benefit of the app for users who find speaking difficult is that the user can train short words or phrases to trigger the app to output longer sentences. For example, if the user wants to order a hamburger made a certain way, all he needs to do is train the word “hamburger” and program the app to “say” the extended order out loud.
Voiceitt Users Speak Up
Alex Lytwin, a Voiceitt user, describes the experience of living with a disability and how Voiceitt helps him: “Having Cerebral Palsy and a speech impairment can cause many struggles on a daily basis. However, Voiceitt allows me to speak with ease and lets the world see my entire life’s potential.” For some, the current app does not quite meet their needs.
Barbara, who was diagnosed with ALS, a disease causing progressive deterioration of the muscles, writes, “I’m seeking deeper communication with my partner and friends.” Barbara will be among the first users to test the next generation of Voiceitt innovation.
A New Win-Win for Ensemble Community Members
Voiceitt has been collecting non-standard speech samples in a proprietary database called Ensemble. The database allows the automatic speech recognition technology to learn the different ways people can pronounce words and learn to recognize non-standard speech. As the database increases and expands with more audio data, Voiceitt’s technology advances. Voiceitt invites more people with non-standard speech (clinically called “dysarthria”) to join Ensemble. Those who join will be a part of the Ensemble community who have done their part in enhancing speech recognition for all while removing barriers to communication. Ensemble members, by recording their voices, will have the chance to be among the first to experience the newest technology by joining a closed cohort of beta users.
Currently, Voiceitt is beta testing the next generation of speech recognition technology, offering select beta testers and those who have completed 1,000 recordings in Ensemble a unique spontaneous speech recognition web-based tool that will work on any device that can open a web browser. The technology will allow speakers to communicate freely on video calls with live transcriptions, transcribing emails, or ordering a pizza!
Partnering for Success
Voiceitt was born out of a seemingly impossible dream to create a communication solution for millions worldwide with non-standard speech who are not being served by existing voice products. The goal was to develop technology to support those individuals’ unique speech patterns. Voiceitt’s partners now include Yoocan, an Israeli-based empowerment and community resource for people with disabilities and their families, and AMIT Technion, which invests in exceptional biomedical innovations conceived by Technion students, faculty, and alumni (co-founders Danny Weissberg and Stas Tiomkin are both alumni).
Voiceitt’s investors include Amazon, Microsoft, and AARP. The company is also working with state governments, such as the Department of Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities in Tennessee, to bring Voiceitt’s groundbreaking technology to people with speech and motor impairments, to enable them to contribute to society and to enter the workforce.
Members of the public can now be a part of this effort to bring accessible speech recognition technology to all, regardless of speech ability. Voiceitt invites people with dysarthric speech to join Ensemble and contribute to the next generation of continuous speech recognition. Additionally, Voiceitt seeks investors to join their efforts in building sophisticated technologies that remove barriers to communication for all. To further the initiative, Voiceitt also works with college interns seeking to be a part of the voice equity revolution and to join an impactful Israel-based startup.
For those who have experienced a breakdown in communication with a loved one or who have experienced the frustration of not being understood, Voiceitt is an excellent resource to help them to be listened to and understood. For more information, please visit voiceitt.com.
Dr. Rachel Levy is a practicing speech-language pathologist and customer success manager at Voiceitt. She is a proud Magen David Yeshiva alumnus, and is wife to Cantor Shmuel Levy of the Edmond J. Safra Synagogue in Manhattan. Please connect with her at Rachel.Levy@voiceitt.com.