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Rotterdam start-up contributes to digital accessibility

SpeakSee helps to make meetings accessible for deaf and hearing impaired

Digital accessibility means that everyone, including people with disabilities, can make full use of websites, apps and services offered via the Internet. Think, for example, of applying online for a passport, buying something in a webshop, holding an online meeting or attending a webinar. In order for anyone to be able to participate fully online, online information must be available for everyone to read or listen to. This requires technology and innovation to make it happen. This week, the Week of Accessibility proves that once again. Rotterdam-based start-up company SpeakSee is helping to make meetings accessible for deaf and hearing impaired with a new tool: SpeakSee AutoCaption.

Accessibility Week

This week (5-9 October), Every(in), the national network of people with a disability or chronic illness, organises their annual event: Week of Accessibility. With many more activities taking place online since the corona-pandemic and because online participation is just as important as physical participation in society, this year's Accessibility Week focuses on digital accessibility. During this week, all kinds of organisations such as municipalities, entrepreneurs, disability platforms and students offer various online activities. For each province, various online meetings, workshops, games and webinars are scheduled.

Digital accessibility

It is important to realise that audio and video without subtitling and audio description is not perceptible to everyone. What people with disabilities need in order to make good use of a website or app differs per disability. For example, the deaf and hearing impaired need subtitling or transcription for video and linear and logical design. Each disability and its associated need requires its own technology to make information accessible.

SpeakSee 

Rotterdam-based start-up technology company SpeakSee of founder and CEO Jari Hazelebach developed a tool that makes spoken text accessible to deaf and hard of hearing people. Jari grew up as a child of two deaf parents. His parents mainly listened by lip-reading, which made conversations and meetings more difficult and tiring for them. This inspired him to develop his own tool: a set with an app and microphones to use during a group conversation. Together with his partner Marcel van der Ven he further developed the idea. In the end, the final prototype was completed and is currently being put into production.

How does SpeakSee AutoCaption work? All participants in a conversation are given a microphone with a different colour and everything they say is translated into written text in the accompanying app. That text is in the same colour as the speaker's microphone. In this way it is much easier for a deaf or hard of hearing person to follow a group conversation.

According to Jari the urgency is enormous. During the coronary pandemic a lot of communication has shifted to digital channels and this is very challenging for the deaf and hard of hearing to follow. For example, Jari saw that at the beginning of the intelligent lockdown his father could hardly follow what was being said during online meetings. In response to this, SpeakSee has now also developed a tool called SpeakSee AutoCaption, which converts digital meetings and webinars directly into text via a Windows application that can be easily installed on the PC.

Application by the municipality of Rotterdam  

During the Week of Accessibility SpeakSee AutoCaption supports, among other things, the webinar with Willem Philipsen: 'An existence with limitations or limitless possibilities?' organised by the municipality of Rotterdam. Rotterdam is working with the Rotterdam Onbeperkt (Rotterdam Unlimited) project to create a city that is more accessible for everyone. Its starting point is that an accessible, inclusive city is not only about physical but also about social and (online) information accessibility.

The municipality of Rotterdam will also apply SpeakSee Autocaption in the upcoming #LSH010 network breakfasts in 2020 and 2021. Do you have an auditory disability or do you know people who are interested in following the network breakfasts in this way? Then send an e-mail to  info@lifesciencesandhealth010.nl