Access Angle: Voice Recognition Technology: Words = Action

Gabriel Ryan, School Health Blog Writer and Contributor

Voice Recognition Technology: Words = Action

Voice or speaker recognition is the ability of a device or program to receive and interpret dictation or to understand and carry out spoken commands. Voice recognition enables people to interact with technology by speaking. Being able to interact with technology by using just your voice can save time, increase productivity, and enables access to content and experiences that may not have previously been a possibility. Over the past several decades, voice recognition technology has evolved from a machine comprehending a handful of digits to technology that is now integrated into many products which people use to control devices and input text throughout their daily routines.


The History of Voice Recognition:


• The Audrey System, developed by Bell Laboratories in 1952, was the first machine that could understand the human voice. This system only recognized numbers 0-9.


• The IBM Shoebox was a machine similar to the Audrey but could understand six words such as plus, minus, false, total, subtotal, and off. This was a math machine.


• IBM Automatic Call Identification enabled engineers anywhere in the US to talk and receive “spoken” answers from a 5000-word vocabulary.

• Harpy System, developed by Carnegie Mellon University was a system that could understand full sentences with a vocabulary of over 1,011 words.


• The Hidden Markov Method, named after the Russian mathematician Andrei Markov. This method uses probabilities to determine patterns of speech.

• Worlds of Wonder, Inc. created the first interactive talking doll named “Julie”.


• Dragon Systems released Dragon Dictate, the first speech-to-text dictation software. Dragon NaturallySpeaking was the first commercial recognition program that could understand natural speech up to 100 words per minute.

•  BellSouth’s VAL was the very first voice portal, an interactive system that could respond to questions over the phone.


• Software and hardware technology that included voice recognition continued to improve and expand more into consumer goods.


• Siri introduced a virtual assistant as an application which could dictate what was being said and give an interactive response.

• Apple acquired Siri, added new features, and integrated this digital assistant into its products. Siri uses natural language processing to understand speech and perform actions.

• Four major digital assistants dominate voice recognition and software technologies:

◆ Google Assistant on Android devices and Google services like Google home

◆  Amazon Alexa used on Android, Apple, and Lenovo laptops

◆  Bixby is Samsung’s assistant on phones and tablets

◆ Siri on all Apple products such as phones, computers, iPads etc.


Voice recognition technology functionality, accuracy, and availability continues to improve each year. Many more developers and manufacturers have integrated the virtual or voice assistants into their wide range of products and services. These types of products are of interest and used by people with and without disabilities.


“For most of us, technology makes things easier. For a person with a disability, it makes things possible.”

- Judy Heumann, American Disability Rights Activist and Former Assistant Secretary, U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs


For people with disabilities, such as those with limited upper limb mobility and/or limited or no vision, this technology has been life changing. In my daily routine I’ve incorporated several devices and services that have a voice recognition feature. Listed below are my favorite devices and services with a voice recognition feature.


Gabe’s Favorite Devices/Services with Voice Recognition

Apple Virtual Assistant -Siri

Siri can assist with making calls, sending texts, reading messages, dictation, setting alarms and reminders, accessing the internet and applications, and so much more. I use Siri for all these activities on an iPad, iPhone and iWatch, hands free, every day. In fact, I use voice-to-text and Siri to create the Access Angle content.

Amazon Voice Service -Alexa

This voice service can be used for so many tasks just by naturally speaking. Many people use the voice service through a smart speaker, the most common being an Echo. This can be used for asking to listen to music, making calls, add calendar events, asking virtually anything and the speaker will offer an answer. Alexa has the ability to interface with smart home devices such as lights, cameras, door locks, window shades, fans and too many other devices to name. This is also something I use for daily tasks and communication.

 • TIP: For people who rely on caregivers for assistance with activities of daily living, learning to use voice assistants such as Siri and Alexa may be a great addition to a help and safety plan, or in case of an emergency.

Simple Human Voice and Motion Sensor Trash Can

This trash can is voice activated. By saying “open can” the lid opens automatically. The 25-inch height and slim profile are easy for me to reach. My preference is to have a trash can with a lid, however using my hands or a foot pedal to lift a lid and throw something away isn’t a combination of tasks I could do easily. Motion sensors are great but waving in the right place then being ready to throw away the item can require some timing. I want to clean up, put trash where it goes and go about my day. With this trash can, I am easily able to do just that.

Glideaway Odessa Adjustable Base Bed

This adjustable bed base includes the option to connect with the Amazon Alexa to control the functions of the base with voice commands. While laying down, I’m not able to independently change positions. However, with this bed base I can move into different positions such as raising and lowering the head and foot of the bed using voice commands.

Philips Hue Personal Wireless Lighting Smart LED Bulb

This lightbulb uses a standard base and can be used hands free with your voice in most fixtures with Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri. It offers the ability to choose from millions of shades of color. I use this lighting regularly. The option to use voice to turn on, off, dim, or change color a light is amazing. I am able to place the lamp where it gives the most light, instead of limiting its placement to where I can reach it. 

Voice Activated TV Remote

Many Tv remotes can now be operated with minimal physical interaction. For some models a push of 1 button and you can speak the name of the program or channel you are interested in watching and the Tv will go right to that selection.

Twinkly Smart Decoration Lights

These decorative lights can be controlled through voice commands when synced with a smart home device like an Alexa or Google. Once set up it works by saying “turn on Twinkly” along with other voice commands for changing the color and brightness. This item is creative, decorative, and fun. I loved using my voice to control these lights on the Christmas tree to light up the room and change colors and brightness each day through the holiday season.


There are many exciting advancements with voice recognition, but it does have some challenges and is not perfect. Sometimes commands are not accurately heard or interpreted by the device, which causes one to repeat or reword a command several times. Wi-Fi connected devices are sometimes negatively affected by internet outages and automated software updates. However, these are minor drawbacks to the overall benefits of using these tools.


The future of voice recognition is predicted to continue to gain more traction and become more embedded in how we work and live. Brian Roemmele, Founder & Editor-in-chief of Multiplex Magazine offers the following insight, “The last 60 years of computing, humans were adapting to the computer. The next 60 years, the computer will adapt to us. It will be our voices that will lead the way; it will be a revolution and it will change everything.”






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