Digital Inclusion: Pernambuco Testing Mobile Software for Hearing Impaired

Mobile phones for the deaf may soon be a reality in Brazil. A project has launched in the state of Pernambuco to test software that translates voice calls to text and vice-versa.

This project forms part of Nambiquara Audição Digital, a digital inclusion initiative for the hearing-impaired. Spearheaded by the State Secretary of Science and Technology and SOFTEX, the program encompasses software, equipment and servers designed to expand the communicative capabilities of the deaf by phone.

Pernambuco’s government has invested US$150,000 (R$320,000) and SOFTEX US$99,000 (R$213,000) to develop the aforementioned mobile phone software for the deaf. Now, initiative leaders are in search of 621 volunteers to test the product.

“The program has a two-year timeframe to get volunteers in order to adjust the defects in the system, which has already been used experimentally by 50 deaf individuals over the last three years,” Alexandre Stamford, who heads innovation at the Pernambuco State Secretary of Science and Technology, told G1. “Then, the project can be launched commercially.”

The way in which the program works is actually quite simple. The software is tied to a server, which receives text from the deaf user and turns it into a voice message. The person on the other end responds by voice, and the server renders that text so that the deaf user can understand.

Though the relay concept is straight-forward, the project is, technologically, highly complex. And that, according to Stamford, is where the greatest challenge lies. He explained, The problem is calibrating the voice-to-text translator, because everyone has their own way of speaking. Some people have high voices, others have deep voices, and that complicates pattern recognition.”

Initiative leaders hope to smooth out this issue and others during the testing phase.

It is worth noting that the software will not be limited to the 621 volunteers needed for the testing phase. The server allows for up to 3,000 simultaneous users, meaning room for 2,379 other users. All one needs to utilize the software is a device that is compatible with the Android 2.2 operating system or higher.

It’s no secret that technology has a substantial inclusive potential, much of which is largely untapped. This is not the first app designed for the hearing-impaired, nor will it be the last. Initiatives such as this Pernambuco one are indicative of the transformative power of entrepreneurship and technology in fostering a better world.

Learn more about the Pernambuco initiative and, if you’re in the area, find out how to participate here.