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Speak and Listen to the Web using SALT

  • By Brian Graham
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Attention is the real currency of business and individuals. The realm of the Internet most prominently displays the economics of attention, thereby placing the rising need to attract and retain attention as one of the highest priorities of Web site designers. Amongst the tactics employed to achieve this, the site has to offer the following four: relevance, engagement, community and convenience. Finally, there is a technology marvel available to enable three of these most important goals. Web developers can build and deploy speech-enabled applications at Web sites using the SALT (Speech Application Language Tags) specification, which has been developed by Microsoft, Cisco, Intel and other industry leaders. Voice Web StudioTM from Voice Web Solutions provides the tools for your Web developer to build and deploy SALT applications that will enable millions to "Speak and Listen to the Web".

SALT is an extension to existing Web programming models and markup languages such as HTML, XHTML and XML. SALT facilitates speech interfaces that reside alongside traditional input/output modes such as text, audio, video and graphics. SALT is an emerging technology standard for deploying speech enabled accessibility services that will reach out to the world's 40 million visually impaired.

The Web developer can use Voice Web Studio to create SALT-enhanced Web pages that can support speech access to Web content through a variety of devices, including telephones, internet kiosks, desktop and tablet PCs, and PDAs. The use of speech as an additional interaction mode to the standard modes of interaction (keyboards, pointing devices, and touch screens) is where one attracts the precious attention of the user.

Single modality is seen in the case of a touch-tone phone system. Here a touch-tone input is followed by a pre-recorded or synthesized speech output. Multimodality is where we can employ multiple user interfaces with the application. One could, for example, interact with an application through a speech input, whereas the response output could be provided through both a speech output as well as a screen display. This multimodal interaction does not have to be only through your desktop PC; it could be through your wireless PDA device as well.


The application areas for enhancing your Web site with speech-enabled features are limited only by the breadth of your vision. You could provide better customer service by integrating your speech interactive Web site with call centers. On the other hand, you could incorporate it into your e-learning solutions to guide the students with spoken instructions as well as accept voice responses from such students. Building interactivity is a critical strategy in improving instructional effectiveness in online teaching. You could thus be using technology to simulate the in-class learning environment with unlimited reach.

Online banking, online entertainment and mobile computing are some other applications that can benefit with speech-assisted elements. In the E-governance arena, speech-assisting the filling up of Web forms and guiding citizens through information retrieval processes can take the paradigm of citizen service to a new level.

This technology also offers the important benefit of enabling accessibility to important Web content for the visually impaired. Section 508 of the 'Americans with Disabilities Act' requires that public Web sites meet accessibility standards. SALT enables your site to deliver audio results to disabled users, thus allowing your site to be more accessible to those who are visually or motor impaired. The disabled user can access existing Web content using the standard desktop computer. The speech add-in that installs on the desktop is available at little or no cost and installs easily - just like a screen reader. Screen readers limit the user to using a mouse or keyboard to read the current location of a Web site aloud to the user. In contrast, the speech-enabled sites can read the Web content to the user and allow the user to use their microphone to verbally fill out forms and navigate the site, in addition to using the mouse or keyboard. Thus, the user can interact with the computer using speech, which is not possible with a screen reader.

Newspaper and book reading services and document reading services is another application area that can employ this technology effectively. Aircraft mechanics, insurance adjusters, real estate agents and others can also use it to increase productivity by being able to stay hands free and yet fill out Web based forms or hear spoken information.

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This article was originally published on April 3, 2003

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