The Malta Independent 18 November 2017, Saturday

PM launches Maltese language speech engine

Malta Independent Thursday, 8 November 2012, 13:09 Last update: about 5 years ago

Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi this morning launched the first ever Maltese language speech synthesiser engine which is able to convert text into speech during a visit to the headquarters of the government’s IT agency (Mita) in Santa Venera.

This speech engine was developed by local IT experts to cater for the needs of people with disabilities, including speech impairments, people with loss of sight, dyslexic people, illiterate people, among others with 85% of this project funded by the EU.

Speech synthesis is the artificial production of human speech while a computer hardware or software used for this purpose is called a speech synthesiser. Local IT experts have gone a step further by developing a text-to-speech software that converts written text into speech in Maltese in a clearer way than ever before. This technology exists today for a number of languages.

The chairman of the Foundation for Information Technology Accessibility (Fita) – the principal advocate and coordinator for making ICT accessible for disabled people in Malta - said that this software will enable persons with a disability, among others, rely less on family and State support, minimising the digital divide by assisting individuals to contribute productively to society while also helping them feel less detached from society.

He also urged companies to take on board persons with a disability who can today contribute effectively to our economy while also calling for more website hosts to follow suit and make websites more user friendly for persons with a disabilty. He added that such a software will help persons with a disability, including those who are employed with Fita, have their life made easier in ICT use.

After having been given a tour of Mita’s offices, Dr Gonzi lauded the hub for ICT in Malta, describing it as a “jewel” which operated and monitored all the information technology related to government.

During his tour, Dr Gonzi, who was accompanied by Communications Minister Austin Gatt, Minister Chris Said, and Claudio Grech – who spearheaded Malta's ICT revolution and who will be contesting the next election, joked with staff based in the control centre within Mita, asking them to advise him on how he was going to “get rid of all his spam once and for all”.

He also was told by a team leader that Mita handled 65,000 governmental network points, 10,000 of which are installed at Mater Dei Hospital.

Speaking on the new software, Dr Gonzi said that this was another service the government was providing free of charge, stating that Mita hadn’t been built overnight but today government could boast of a hub that handles all government’s networks in a timely and efficient manner.

“Before, children with a disability had to turn to special schools but now, through softwares of this kind, these children can amalgamate with other children and need not attend special schools to do so,” the Prime Minister said,  emphasising that “in no way am I trying to remove the credibility and professionalism of such schools”.

While on the subject, Dr Gonzi said that today, 3,800 children were benefitting from the services of learning support assistants.

He added that every morning he switched his iPad on to watch the news, stressing that even persons with a disability had the right to do the same, once again highlighting and lauding the speech synthesiser software initiative.

“This software helps lessen communication barriers experienced by persons with a disability or lieracy difficulties.”

A number of persons with visual impairment were present with their guide dogs during the launch.

 

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