1999 Conference Proceedings

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Director of Product Management
Kurzweil Educational Group
Lernout and Hauspie, Inc


Lernout and Hauspie (L&H) is the world leader in advanced multilingual speech and language technologies and solutions. Lernout and Hauspie’s speech technology – text-to-speech [output] and speech-to-text [input] – is used in many products that in turn address the special needs of students. In September 1998, L&H acquired Kurzweil Educational Systems who now continue as the Kurzweil Educational Group of L&H.

David Bradburn has worked in the adaptive technology industry since 1984 when he began working with Kurzweil speech recognition and Kurzweil reading machine technology in the United Kingdom. David has presented papers at many conferences worldwide covering topics as diverse as refreshable Braille to today’s topic: "Speech Technology in Education."

The title of this session could be called "Speech Technology in Special Education" but that would ignore those students learning English as a Second Language or those students who just want to make themselves more productive, and could therefore benefit from using speech and language technology. However, for the purposes of today’s discussion, I shall be concentrating on the needs of students who are blind and severely visually impaired (BSVI) and those students who have a learning disability (or learning difference) or have difficulty reading.

Let me first address the needs of the visually impaired student. The population of blind and severely visually impaired in the USA is approximately 1.6 million individuals (¾ percent of total population). Of that amount, 600,000 individuals are in the workplace and covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Today I would like to focus on the 46,000 blind children in school, but first, here is a quick history lesson on how all of this began.

In 1975, Ray Kurzweil invented the world’s first CCD (Closed Coupled Device) flatbed scanner. It was on a fateful plane ride from San Francisco to Boston during that year that Ray found himself seated beside a gentleman who was blind. After exchanging the usual pleasantries, the two began asking what each other did for a living and Ray, when asked, responded that he had developed a scanner. The blind gentleman exclaimed how wonderful it would be if that same device could be adapted somehow to help him read. With that idea in his mind, Ray went off and developed the first text-to-speech synthesis, coupled the two ideas together, and in 1976 introduced the Kurzweil Reading Machine (KRM), the world’s first print-to-speech reading machine for the blind. After presenting his new device on NBC’s "Today" program, the first machine was ordered by Stevie Wonder. The Perkins School for the Blind ordered the second machine. The rest, as they say, is history.

Today, BSVI students are benefiting from Lernout and Hauspie speech and language technology present in the Kurzweil 1000 reading product. Kurzweil 1000 is the current SAP/Stevie Wonder Vision Awards™ "Product of the Year." Students benefit because they can quickly and easily place text on a scanner, hit a button on their computer keyboard, and moments later hear text being spoken to them. Students can edit documents as well and this aids productivity.

The National Institute of Health indicates that 15% of the US-population has some form of learning disability. The National Institute for Literacy finds 20% of adults (US) read at or below a fifth-grade level. Approximately 80% of people with learning disabilities have reading problems. The Kurzweil Educational Group, an affiliate of Lernout and Hauspie, has worked with hundreds of educators and students to develop Kurzweil 3000, a PC-based reading system for people with learning differences or reading difficulties.

Students with learning differences or reading difficulties are benefiting from Lernout and Hauspie speech technology present in the Kurzweil 3000 reading product. Kurzweil 3000 scans, then speaks and highlights the printed word, while providing a suite of study skills for alternative methods of learning. All of this technology is spoken to the user using Lernout and Hauspie text-to-speech technology. Users also benefit from Lernout and Hauspie speech-to-text recognition that allows the dictation of classroom notes and homework assignments. An independent research study was conducted last year that proves Kurzweil 3000 improves reading speed and comprehension.

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