Inclusive Information and Communication Technologies (IICT)

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Over CHF 12 million to make information and communication technologies more inclusive

Providing access to information for people with disabilities is a technological challenge at a time when communication channels are multiplying. An international consortium of researchers, public and private partners, led by the University of Zurich and including the Idiap Research Institute and Icare in French-speaking Switzerland, has just received support of nearly CHF 6 million from Innosuisse, supplemented by CHF 6 million from private partners, to meet this challenge.

Having access to a simplified text, having a translation or evaluation in sign language, listening to an audio description, are all indispensable tools for many people. Despite the multiplication of communication channels, including people with disabilities is still a challenge. This is why this project brings together several partners of excellence, such as the University of Zurich, the University of Teacher Education and, on the French-speaking side, the Idiap Research Institute and the Icare Research Institute.

Complementary skills

“At Idiap, we are not only specialised in spoken language processing, but also in sign language. In this project, these two areas of expertise will be used to develop applications for evaluating signed language in the context of e-learning methods and audio descriptions,” explains Mathew Magimai-Doss, senior researcher in the speech processing research group. “With machine learning tools, for example, we could use a more direct approach to
simplifying texts for people with a mental disability. Currently, text simplification processes involve many complex iterative rules,” adds Julien Torrent, Innovation Manager at the Icare Research Institute.

Beyond scientific research, the aim is to develop tools that can be used transversally on several platforms and meet different needs. Applications range from information related to natural hazards to access to official documents. To achieve this, it is necessary, for example, to be able to simplify a text to make it understandable, while keeping its meaning, or to make a subtitle or an audio description of images. These are all scientific and technical challenges.

Public and private partners to implement the technologies Far from being limited to academic research, the project includes several partners who will be responsible for the practical implementation of the technologies developed. In collaboration with the Swiss Federation of the Deaf, several federal actors will be involved, including the Federal Office for Equality for People with Disabilities, Swiss TXT (in conjunction with the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation), the Federal Social Insurance Office, the Federal Office of Public Health, the Federal Office for Civil Protection and MeteoSwiss. The private insurer Zurich and the Austrian company Capito, which produces simplified versions of texts, are also involved in the project. The goal? To be able to communicate key information to people with disabilities. The project will start in 2022 and is planned to last 4 years under the umbrella of Innosuisse’s new Flagship initiative, which aims to support systemic innovation. It is one of the projects selected following the first call in January 2021.

The Icare research institute, based at TechnoArk in Sierre (Valais – Switzerland). Its expertise and research focuses on object identification, computer vision and machine learning. These innovations are embedded in mobile devices that can communicate and interact with multiple value-added services available in the cloud. The Icare research institute was created in 1991, on the initiative of the School of Computer Science in Sierre. Constituted as an association, its members, represented on the committee, include the State of Valais, Sierre Region, the municipality of Sierre and the HES-SO Valais-Wallis.

The Idiap research institute has been one of the world’s specialists in artificial intelligence for 30 years. Speech and visual recognition, human-computer interaction, robotics and language analysis are some of the fields of competence of the Institute. Based in Martigny, Valais, the institute is involved in local, national and international projects. The non-profit Idiap Foundation was created in 1991 by the City of Martigny, the State of Valais, the Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, the University of Geneva and Swisscom.

Breaking down communication barriers for better social inclusion

We are pleased to announce that the Swiss Innovation Promotion Agency (Innosuisse) has approved a major four-year project (total volume of 12.4 million Swiss francs) entitled “Inclusive Information and Communication Technologies” (IICT), as part of its new “Flagship” initiative. The aim of this project is to develop information and communication technologies (ICT) for people with disabilities. This Flagship targets five specific accessibility areas: text simplification, sign language translation and evaluation, automatic audio description and spoken subtitles. Within this “Flagship”, each area is broken down into sub-projects, with close links between them, thanks to common technologies, such as artificial intelligence. IICT, with its user-centred approach, will lead to innovations that will help people with hearing, visual and cognitive impairments, but also sign language learners, thus emphasising the two-way aspect of accessibility. This “Flagship” follows a participatory and inclusive approach by involving people with disabilities in all stages of the research and development cycle.

This Flagship is led by the Institute for Computational Linguistics at the University of Zurich (PI: Dr Sarah Ebling). It consists of five research partners, one of which is a foreign subcontractor, and six development partners. Together, the Flagship partners are among the most important players in the field of inclusive ICT in Switzerland.
The Flagship will start in 2022.

Flagship research partners :

  • University of Zurich, Institute for Computational Linguistics
  • ICARE Research Institute
  • Idiap Research Institute
  • Intercantonal School of Teacher Education (HfH)
  • Subcontractor : University of Surrey, UK

Enhancement partners :

  • SWISS TXT, which also represents the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SRG) and its radio and television stations
  • CFS GmbH (“capito”), Autriche
  • Swiss Federation of the Deaf (SGB-FSS)
  • Federal Department of Home Affairs (FDHA)
  • Federal Office for the Equality of People with Disabilities (BFEH)
  • Federal Office of Meteorology and Climatology (MeteoSwiss)
  • Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH)
  • Federal Social Insurance Office (FSIO)
  • Federal Office for Civil Protection (FOCP)
  • Département fédéral de la défense, de la protection de la population et des sports
  • Office fédéral de la protection de la population OFPP
  • Zurich Insurance Company Ltd.