How European disability tech startups are leveraging AI | TechCrunch

make life better Working for people with disabilities is a laudable goal, but accessibility technology hasn’t traditionally been popular among VCs. In 2022, disability tech companies draw around $4 billion in early-stage investment, which was a fraction fintechFor example, intake of.

One reason is that disability tech startups are often considered too niche to achieve commercial viability – at least at the scale that venture capital demands. By definition, they are considered Bhavan for Minorities, However, some startups in this area have also begun to serve a broader population – and some have even incorporated AI always helps,

Both cases are a balancing act: the broader business case needs to be understood without losing sight of the startup’s mission statement. In the meantime, AI needs to be leveraged in a non-gimmicky way to pass the due diligence sniff test.

Some accessibility-focused startups understand these needs, and their strategies are worth a look. Here are four European startups doing just that.


Image Credit: Visualfy

Visualify Leverages AI to improve the lives of people with hearing loss. The Spanish startup focuses on security and autonomy – it includes a sound recognition AI that recognizes the sound of a fire alarm and a baby crying at home. “AI is critical to our business,” CEO Manel Alcide told TechCrunch last month.

The company offers consumers an app that also serves as a companion to VisualFi Home, its hardware suite consisting of three detectors and one main device. It also entered the public sector with Visualify Places – it’s no coincidence that this startup Recently raised funding From Spain’s national state-owned railway company, Renfe.

One reason VisualFi is gaining popularity on the B2B side is that providing access to public spaces is essential, especially when health and safety are at stake.

In an interview, Alcade explained that equipment and PA systems will be installed at venues like VisualFi Stadium, which can also monitor air quality and other metrics. In the EU, meeting these other targets can help companies receive subsidies while doing the right thing for deaf people.

The latter is still top of mind at Visualify, which is founded as a B Corp and employs both hearing and non-hearing people. Inclusion of Deaf persons at all stages is an ethical stance – “Nothing for us without us.” But it also makes common sense for better design, Alcade said.


Odds Team - Nispar

Image Credit: Odds Technologies

People with complete hearing disability are a small part of a large and growing group. By 2050, 2.5 billion people Some degree of hearing loss is expected. For a variety of reasons, including stigma and cost, many people do not wear hearing aids. Dutch B2B startup Oddus Technologies is targeting this audience with its product, Knife,

Nisper uses AI to make speech more intelligible in environments like cinemas, museums, public transportation and work calls. In practice, this means splitting the audio and mixing it back into a clean track. It does this without increasing background volume noise (something not every hearing aid company can say), making it comfortable for anyone to listen to, even those without hearing loss.

Audus founder Marciano Ferrier, a former ENT doctor, points out that this was not possible to achieve with the same results before AI. Nispar was trained on thousands of videos in multiple languages ​​with variations such as background noise and distorted speech. It took work, but Odds is now leaving the development phase and focusing on adoption, managing director Joost Tavern told TechCrunch in February.

“We are already working with a number of museums, including the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston,” said Tavern, a former parliamentarian and diplomat who spent time in the US. The audio book of The Diary of Anne Frank is accessible to the hearing impaired. “And now we have a solution for the workplace.”

Going into the B2B market is no easy path, so it makes sense for Odds to focus on customers like museums. They are often noisy, which can make it difficult for anyone to hear the audio guide. Using Nisper’s technology to make them more intelligible benefits the general public, not just people with hearing loss, making it easier to adopt.


whisp app setup

Image Credit: whisp

fellow dutch startup whisp Also focuses on speech, but from a different angle. As TechCrunch reported from CES earlier this year, its technology converts whispered speech in a natural voice in real time.

Whisp’s main target audience is “an underserved group of currently 300 million people with voice disabilities worldwide who have lost their voices but still have good articulation,” it site Explains.

For example, individuals with voice disorders that enable them to only whisper or use their esophageal voice; Or those who stutter, like CEO Joris Castermans. He knows very well how his speech has little impact when he whispers.

For people with reduced articulation due to ALS, MS, Parkinson’s or stroke, solutions like text-to-speech apps already exist – but these have downsides like high latency. For those who are still able to express themselves, this can be a big deal.

Thanks to audio-to-audio AI, Whisp is able to provide them with a voice that can be generated in real-time, is language agnostic and sounds real and natural. If users are able to provide a sample, it may even sound like their own voice.

Since there’s no text in between, Whisp is more secure than alternatives, Castermans told TechCrunch. This could open up use cases for non-silent patients who need confidential conversations, he said.

How much users without voice issues will be willing to pay for Whisp’s technology is unclear, but it also has several monetization avenues to explore with its core audience, such as it offering subscriptions for its voice calling app. Charges a fee.


acapela my own voice - 3

Image Credit: acapella group

Whisp highlights the need that some people have to store their voices for later use. Is known voice bankingThis process is what Acapella hopes to facilitate with a service was launched last year,

Acapella Group, which was bought by Swedish tech accessibility company Tobi Dynavox for €9.8 million in 2022Has been in the text-to-speech space several decadesBut recently AI has changed the picture of voice cloning.

The results are much better and the process is also faster. This will lower the standards for voice banking, and although not everyone will do it yet, there may be demand from individuals who know they are at risk of losing their voice after being diagnosed with certain conditions.

Acappella does not charge for the initial phase of the service, which includes a recording of 50 sentences. It is only when and if they need to install Voice on their device that users will have to purchase it directly. through acapella or through a third party (partner, reseller, National Health Insurance Program or others).

In addition to the new possibilities unlocked by AI, the examples above show some of the avenues startups are exploring to expand beyond their core target of serving users with disabilities.

Part of the thinking is that a larger addressable market can increase their potential revenues and spread the costs. But for their customers and partners, it’s also a way to stay true to their definition of access “The quality of being able to be accessed or used by everyone, including people with disabilities.”