Michaela Nachtrab envisions a society in which accessibility for hearing disabled and deaf citizens is the norm rather than the exception. This means seamless communication in educational and professional environments as well as access to information, events, and all kinds of media. Michaela introduced VerbaVoice as a platform to jumpstart a self-organized community of deaf and hard of hearing that can take an active role in advancing accessibility and their own participation in society.
Over 75 percent of deaf and hearing impaired citizens in Germany do not know sign language and rely on personal voice-to-text transcription support. The high cost and limited availability of this service severely decreases their chances for educational and professional success. At the same time, affordable automatic speech recognition technology will not be able to provide the necessary quality for another twenty years. With VerbaVoice, Michaela is building a two-tier architecture to overcome this problem: She is pioneering a web-based service that dramatically reduces the costs of transcription services and in addition, she is building the communication platform that enables deaf and hard of hearing citizens to take an active role in ending their exclusion. Michaela’s efforts have spread throughout Germany and will expand across Europe in the coming years.
„Over 75 percent of deaf and hearing impaired citizens in Germany do not know sign language and rely on personal voice-to-text transcription support.“
One fundamental building block is Michaela’s market-based solution for pervasive transcription services. With Michaela’s online platform, a hearing impaired person can book and connect to a transcriber whenever necessary. The voice of the speaker is recorded by a laptop or mobile phone, transcribed in real-time by a transcriber working from home and displayed on the screen of the laptop or phone. This system reduces the costs by 35 percent, offering the hearing impaired a largely available and affordable transcription service for professional, educational, and private occasions.
Beyond her core service, Michaela recognizes the potential for broader social application of voice-to-text reporting: Her transcription service can serve as the basis for a second level of empowerment and integration of hearing impaired and deaf citizens. The beneficiary community can flesh out the social value of the service through numerous initiatives. Beneficiaries can crowdfund subtitling of news or movies for the community or the public. Or they can give everyone, regardless of their hearing status, the opportunity to participate in and follow public events online via transcript—for free, or at a minimal cost. The community platform on VerbaVoice also allows the beneficiaries to organize campaigns and to create and publish rankings of companies and universities that integrate transcription tools most effectively.
Michaela has worked with the hearing impaired since 1993. She studied Deaf Pedagogy and worked in rehabilitation for more than eight years, building and managing several local branches as a regional director for one of the biggest rehabilitation companies for the hearing impaired in Germany. Michaela witnessed firsthand the tragic bottlenecks of transcription for the hearing impaired.
Since 2002 Michaela has worked part-time as a sign language interpreter. She also created an information platform around financing options for communication support for the hearing impaired and founded Nachtrab Social Affairs, an association supporting projects with social impact. As a result of these roles—which involved her as both a project manager and a sign language interpreter—she became dissatisfied with the great gap in care for the deaf and hard of hearing community—the little to no attention devoted to those hard of hearing or deaf citizens who did not know sign language. Michaela began to develop the idea of VerbaVoice as a merger between social and technical solutions and soon became committed to seeing it done.
Michaela previously resolved to complete her master’s thesis only when she found a topic that would enable her thesis to be relevant, applied, and more than just an item on a bookshelf. In 2008 she completed her master’s degree in business administration with a focus on social entrepreneurship. The stakeholder analysis in Michaela’s thesis forms the basis of VerbaVoice’s business plan.