Michaela Nachtrab

Ashoka Fellow
Fellow Since 2011


This profile was prepared when Michaela Nachtrab was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2011.
The New Idea
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.

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.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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