PTS-financed text-to-speech solution makes Wikipedia more accessible – in Sweden and the world

02/03/2016

The Swedish Post and Telecom Authority (Post- och telestyrelsen, PTS) is collaborating with Wikimedia Sverige, the Swedish chapter of the Wikimedia Foundation, to make Wikipedia more accessible. The collaboration entails the financing of user-generated text-to-speech solution for people who have difficulties availing themselves of the texts on the website.

The non-profit association Wikimedia Sverige contacted PTS in conjunction with one of the authority's innovation competitions. PTS saw great potential in collaborating on the idea of making Wikipedia's content more accessible to people who have difficulties availing themselves of information in text form. The project has been named Wikispeech and is a text-to-speech solution that will be financed by PTS and developed by Wikimedia Sverige, KTH Royal Institute of Technology and STTS Speech Technology Services.

Continual improvement with crowdsourcing

The text-to-speech solution will be user generated, a method also known as crowdsourcing. This means that just like with Wikipedia's articles, users will contribute to the development of the text-to-speech solution, helping improve the speech synthesis to make it sound more natural. Initially, text-to-speech will be available in Swedish and English, but will also work in Arabic. It will then be possible, with the help of users, to extend this to the other languages in which Wikipedia is available, at present just over 280.

Open source code for wide distribution

The text-to-speech solution will be a plug-in for the MediaWiki software (which Wikipedia uses) and, as such, will be freely available for use by the thousands of Swedish companies, municipalities and universities who also use this software. All material produced will be freely licensed and can be used free of charge by anyone, which has not previously been done for such an extensive text-to-speech solution.

"PTS works continually for increased accessibility, usability and diversity in IT and electronic communication. We are pleased to be a part of and support a project that can increase accessibility for so many people," comments Catarina Wretman, Deputy Director-General at PTS.

World's largest encyclopaedia

The Wikipedia website is the world's largest encyclopaedia and the most visited website not operated by a commercial company. It attracts about 500 million visitors and registers some 20 billion page views every month. Up to 25 percent of these visitors need, or prefer, to receive text information in spoken form.

"Everyone has the right to free knowledge, but that doesn't mean that everyone can digest knowledge in the same way," says John Anderson, Project Manager at Wikimedia Sverige.

This text-to-speech solution will make Wikipedia's content more accessible specifically for people with reading difficulties, such as those with dyslexia or impaired vision. But a lot of other users who for various reasons better assimilate spoken rather than written information will also benefit from the text-to-speech function.
The project is being financed by PTS in the amount of SEK 2,800,000 and will run from March 2016 to September 2017.

For more information:
Adam Rosén: +46 (0)73 640 58 49 or adam.rosen@pts.se
PTS presstjänst: +46 (0)8 678 55 55