Hi all --
I just got the following announcement that someone posted to the blind-l list and thought I'd pass it along.
I know some of you are deafblind and might be interested in getting more info.
/ Te Globe and Mail, Toronto, Canada, Thursday, November 18, 2004 .....
ViaScribe brings words to the deaf
By JACK KAPICA Globe and Mail
It may not be as glamorous as the Babelfish, writer Douglas Adams' fanciful creation that translates everything a listener hears into his own language, but IBM's ViaScribe is getting close to it.
In his science-fiction novel The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Mr. Adams imagined a small fish which, when inserted into the ear canal, would translate all the languages spoken in the universe. ViaScribe is a software product that comes close, and is getting closer to that miraculous fish.
The technology, unveiled in Toronto Thursday, is an extension of ViaVoice, IBM's system of interpreting spoken words as commands for a computer. ViaScribe translates the voice into text in real time, and moreover can be combined with an audio recording of the voice, video and slides for a full multimedia presentation.
The main purpose of the technology is to help deaf or hard-of-hearing people to interact in real time with a group of people at seminars, classrooms, presentations or tours or museums and such.
The next step, IBM said, is to run the text through a language system for on-the-fly translation.
The primary platform for the technology, IBM said, would be handheld computers, such as personal digital assistants, which would receive the text as it is broadcast vie a wireless device.
The $1-million (U.S.) invested in the project went toward creating a system that allows a speaker to talk naturally, without uttering punctuation marks, and using an error-correction system.
Transcripts are then made instantly available, which helps eliminate taking notes, and they can also be published on the Internet. When finished, the text can be edited, annotated, reviewed and marked, and users can search for words throughout the product.
Though IBM is unveiling the software, Sara Basson, IBM's program manager for accessibility services, said that it is not yet a mature product and is currently in pilot projects at several universities - it's still a long way from replacing stenographers.
"It's an evolutionary process," she said, "and stenography is the gold standard we're going for."
ViaScribe was developed in conjunction with the University College of Cape Breton's Alexander Graham Bell Institute, which adapted the technology for the classroom, and with the Liberated Learning Initiative at Saint Mary's University in Halifax. So far, 10 universities in Canada, the United States and Australia have tested the system.
Parks Canada, the government agency in charge of federal parks, will be the first organization to deploy the system. Deaf and hard-of-hearing visitors to the Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site, operated in Baddeck, Cape Breton, by Parks Canada, will be able to tour the exhibits using ViaScribe.
John Harker, president of the University College of Cape Breton, called ViaScribe "nothing short of wondrous," and said it helps the Liberated Learning Initiative in "setting pedagogy on a new footing."
Jim Watson, a Boston-based teacher of the deaf and a great-great-grandson of Alexander Graham Bell, noted that his illustrious ancestor also thought of himself first as a teacher of the deaf, in addition to his role as a developer of the telephone.
Mr. Watson said he believes Mr. Bell "would have raved about all the technological advances we have made today."
ViaScribe, he said, "will improve the quality of learning" among those with hearing loss.
Ms. Basson, who demonstrated the product, said ViaScribe has an accuracy of 90 to 95 per cent, a rate which improves when it is used in closed settings, such as universities and museums.
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