EU Cohesion funds support creation of a vital tool for special people

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The digital age, an era which until a few decades ago was unimaginable, is now an integral part of our lives. The more we age, the more we must get used to a life where people communicate more through messages on their mobile phone than through their vocal cords.

Getting used to the digital age is not a matter of choice any longer. It is a must. The more one resists adapting, the more isolated from the real world he or she may become.

For many, particularly those with special needs, such as impaired eyesight or hearing, the digital age reality is even more difficult. As digital advances continue, more products are being launched daily, making life easier but faster.

This has not been the same for Maltese users with special needs.

Since most of the digital products are created for larger markets, with millions using the same ‘common’ language to communicate and go about using the new digital tools, multinationals, as expected, did not cater for users of small languages such as Maltese.

For example, digital products were created so that those with special needs could also integrate in the digital world. Speech engines which read text could make a difference. However, these were only available in English and other popular foreign languages.

This posed a real threat to Maltese users with special needs who wanted to keep up with the rest of society.

European Union cohesion funds have come in handy in this area and have made a real difference in the lives of many Maltese citizens.

In 2008, through substantial investment of European Regional Development Fund, a new initiative was taken by the Federation for Information Technology Accessibility – FITA – to start working on the development of a first speech engine in the Maltese language.

This proved to be a real game changer for many.

While until then, many digital users could not understand Maltese text on their computer, as this was possible only through an English language speech engine, this has now changed drastically.

Through the investment of EU funds, FITA could invest in the necessary professionals to create a specially designed software providing a Maltese language speech engine.

Through this development, which could only be made by Maltese users for their own use, special needs users wanting to work and use the Maltese language digitally could continue with their daily lives without the need of relying on others.

As most of the services offered by both the private and public sector have now been transferred online, the FITA Maltese speech engine has also been integrated in the online services, making it much more disseminated and easier to use.

EU Cohesion funds are also being used to regularly update this Maltese engine, which is a lifeline to hundreds of people with special needs who want to be fully integrated into the rest of society.

This article is part of the OurEU.mt campaign, which is being managed by CiConsulta’s ComuniqEU, with the financial support of the European Union. Its contents are the sole responsibility of CiConsulta and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.