Google Assistant For Good Challenge Seeks to Aid Those With Neuromuscular Disorders

Google Italy and the Neuromusculature Omnicentre (NeMo) Clinic Center are hosting a contest for developers to submit new ways to use the voice assistant to improve the lives of people with neuromuscular disorders. Applications are open to anyone in Europe until Sept. 30 and projects must be submitted by Nov. 30 ahead of the Dec. 16 final event.

Neuromuscular Voice App Innovation

The Milan-based NeMo is one of the top research and treatment centers for neuromuscular disease in the world. In partnering with Google Italy, NeMo wants to explore how Google Assistant can serve to improve the quality of life of people with neuromuscular disorders such as ALS and muscular dystrophy. As the disorders almost always include increased difficulty in motor skills and movement, the organizers see voice-powered technology as a powerful tool to compensate for limitations caused by these kinds of disorders.

Although the voice apps can address any aspect of life the creators choose, NeMo highlighted a few areas that may be particularly fruitful for developers to look into as they brainstorm. As neuromuscular disorders usually lead to a loss of autonomy, the organizers are interested in ways that voice apps can compensate for even simple actions that become harder or impossible as muscle control degenerates. Relatedly, entertainment is a crucial element to a good quality of life, so NeMo is interested in ways that voice apps can create or maintain the recreational and social aspects of people’s lives as they grapple with neuromuscular disorders. The other suggested theme looks beyond the patient to their caregivers, designing a voice app that can help the friends and family of someone with a neuromuscular disorder care for them.

Voice Assistant Accessibility

The power of voice technology for improving the lives of people with degenerative diseases and disabilities, in general, is enormous. There are already companies focusing on that intersection such as Open Style Lab, which creates accessible fashion and is working on a voice-activated tie. Founder Christina Mallon has ALS and has given speeches about how voice technology has helped her.

Google isn’t alone among the big voice assistant developers in promoting accessibility. Amazon just debuted this week a new first-party Alexa Show skill called Show and Tell, which is designed to help visually impaired people identify groceries and other household items. The company also recently came out with an ad in the UK showcasing the voice assistant as an aid to someone with low-vision.


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