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Program utilizing voice recognition technology aiming to enhance literacy skills
Wednesday April 27, 2011 — Deron Hamel

A program offered by the Burnaby Association for Community Inclusion (BACI) is helping adults accessing services from the organization enhance literacy skills with innovative technology.

For several years now, John Dunlop, an adult care worker at the Burnaby Association for Community Inclusion (BACI), has been leading the program, which utilizes Reading Companion, a computer application with voice-recognition technology developed by IBM.

The program is a component of a four-hour computer class John leads.

The program, which runs twice a week for one hour and sees seven people participating at a time, has been successful at engaging people and helping to build literacy skills, says John.

When people using Reading Companion enter the website they are given options of books to read. There are about 100 e-books available to adult learners.

Once the user selects the book they want, a virtual “companion” will read aloud the material, which users hear through headphones.

As the “companion” reads the material, the words come up in green text on the screen.

The user then reads material back through a microphone attached to their headset. The “companion” then provides positive encouragement to the user. As the person’s literacy skills grow stronger, the “companion” reads less material to the user, encouraging people to read on their own.

While people currently participating in the program are not yet able to read full articles, the expectation of BACI and family members is that the program will assist people with literacy challenges eventually learn to read on their own.

John says one of the greatest successes of the program has been the interest it’s receiving from participants.

“The enthusiasm is there,” he says. “The hope is one day that they’ll be able to read, and the expectation is there.”

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