Information technology may help in the development of hardware or software aids for people with special needs, due to a physical or sensorial disability. Not only is the potential market large, but, by paying attention to special requirements, it is also possible to improve the quality of the products for all users. Nevertheless, problems still exist for developing new assistive devices and for converting of good prototypes into commercial products.
The Institute for Systems, Informatics and Safety (ISIS) of the Joint Research Centre (JRC) uses a levy of 6% of the institutional budget to finance Exploratory Research. In 1996 the scientific staff of ISIS made a total of 65 proposals. The ISIS Scientific Committee judged the proposals on originality, appropriateness, soundness and cost and produced a shortlist of 16 proposals, 12 of which were then funded.
In particular, ISIS decided to consider the interface between Life Science and information technology to provide help for the disabled and the elderly in its Exploratory Research Programme for 1996. Since then, tree Projects have been carried out by the ISIS's Unit for Reliable Information Technologies (RIT):
A fourth one has been proposed for year 2001:
The exploratory work provides a better definition, from a technical point of view, of the requirements of people with special needs and allows a more collaborative work between technicians and non technician, paying special attention to the different aspects of the interdisciplinary activities.
- - - - -
The computer is very useful for the hearing impaired, being used for
development of communication of deaf children in rehabilitation sessions
or pedagogic games, as well as for communication with other deaf or
normal-hearing people by text-telephones or electronic mail. A widely
used application is the subtitling of television transmissions, very
powerful help for deaf people, particularly for the language learning
and training for deaf children.
In the last years significant developments have been made in voice to text recognition systems, used both for direct dictation of texts to word processing systems and for the control of computer programs by doctors or researchers using both hands for other tasks. These systems are under test for wheelchairs control for the motor disabled and for helping deaf people to see on a computer screen the voice of a teacher in the same room or of a speaker at the other end of a telephone line.
An objective of the VOICE Project in the frame of the JRC-ISIS Exploratory
Research Programme has been the set-up of a laboratory prototype of
a computer-driven automatic answering telephone, converting voice to
text, intended for the use of deaf people. The same system could be
of use for television broadcasters for live transmissions subtitling,
based on a human interpreter, in one language or for multilingual subtitled
European television news. The subtitling facilities could be of prime
importance in education and tele-education programmes, particularly
important for the deaf.
The research includes: testing of voice to text converter systems, with signals arriving from a telephone line; studying of subtitles system of television broadcasters; analysing the difficulties in speech, the lack of communication and the slight differences between special and normal needs in information technology applications. Even some limited results could be of immediate use for the Associations and Organisations involved in the research.
The VOICE Project activities have been started in 1996 in order to provide the basis of the technical work, and have been continued in 1997, enlarging the field of applications. In 1998 particular attention has been paid to the educational aspects, with the VOICE-School Project. The Project has then been continued with extended goals in the frame of the Telematics Application Programme (TAP) of Directorate General XIII Reseach (TIDE). A new proposal on television subtitling (TV) is proposed for year 2001.