Speech Recognition Software

In recent years, there has been an influx of requests for sign language interpreters throughout the St. Louis Metro area.  The request for sign language interpreting services falls under the ADA as “equal access to communication.”  How that accommodation occurs depends on the situation.  Some companies are curious as to whether speech recognition software is a sufficient means of communication access for Deaf or Hard of Hearing clientele, patients, or students.

Various Communication Styles

First, all Deaf consumers communicate differently.  This is due to various reasons but can be affected by the Deaf consumer’s upbringings, access to hearing aids/cochlear implants, cognitive level, and ability to understand and speak English.  Therefore, it is best to seek the Deaf consumer’s preferred method.  Without this, “equal access to communication” may not be provided sufficiently.

Some Deaf people can read lips, but this is a VERY complex task.  Not ALL Deaf people can read lips for various reasons.  With lip-reading misunderstandings occur often, and they occur more often once the lip-reader becomes exhausted.  Also, lip-readers usually cannot follow conversations accurately.  They cannot hear where the sound is coming from next and do not know who to look at in a rapid group conversation.  Speech recognition software may not work for lip readers since they cannot see the natural movement of a person’s lips to understand the words.

Things to Consider with Speech Recognition Softwarespeech recognition software

  1. If the software speaks back to the Deaf person, do they have enough hearing to accurately hear it?
  2. If the software does speak out, is it a natural voice that pronounces each word perfectly and with a natural flow?  (ex. A GPS cannot read some street signs)
  3. If the software types the communication back and forth in English, instead of through sound, does the Deaf person have a good grasp of English to understand it?
  4. Is it mobile so that any person they interact with can use the software as well?

“Busy” Environments and Mobile Accessibility

Additionally, speech recognition software may not be user friendly in a “busy” environment.  Places such as schools, camps, or social events are usually dynamic.  If someone is relying on the software for communication, it may not be fast enough.  Also, if misunderstandings or miscommunication occur, then what can be done?  If there is a safety concern and the Deaf person does not have access or ability to use the software, what can be done?  If the software is used with anyone, it must be 100% be mobile and accessible to anyone/everyone with whom the Deaf person may interact. That way equal access to all communication is provided.

Unclear Speech

In the St. Louis area, access to properly taught English pronunciation or general practice with verbal English is commonly not experienced.  This makes all or at least most voice recognition software unsuccessful when trying to understand Deaf people.  Also, Deaf people may not understand the software.  American Sign Language (ASL) has a different word order than English.  So even if a message is typed or spoken in English, the software and people involved may not be able to understand each other.


In closing, we would not recommend voice recognition software.  If a person requests a sign language interpreter, then that is likely how they best understand and use communication.  Also, if they request a specific interpreter, it is ideal to attempt to schedule their request.  This way styles and signs are already established (Ex. Ongoing interpreters already know specific client’s signs and style).


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