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Wikipedia is developing a speech engine for visually impaired users

Crowdsourced speech synthesis platform will be available in nearly 300 languages

David Callahan / KTH

Researchers in Sweden are developing a crowdsourced speech engine in an effort to make Wikipedia more accessible to the visually impaired. Wikimedia Sweden has partnered with the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden to develop the "speech synthesis platform," which will be optimized for Wikipedia but open source and free for use on sites running the MediaWiki software. Researchers will begin developing the engine for Swedish, English, and Arabic, which they aim to complete by September 2017, before expanding it to the other 280 languages in which Wikipedia is available.

The hope is that the speech engine will be able to communicate content on Wikipedia for those who have difficulty reading text. Researchers at KTH will rely on users to contribute to the platform's development, in the same way that the encyclopedia has been built through its online community. According to Swedish telecommunications regulator PTS, which is financing the project, an estimated 25 percent of Wikipedia users — 125 million users per month — need or prefer speech to text.

This article has been updated to clarify that Wikimedia Sweden has partnered with the KTH Royal Institute of Technology.