Skopje, July 14, 2021 – Kiko, the first natural voice speech synthesis software in the Macedonian language was launched today on an event in Skopje. The application was developed by UNDP in cooperation with the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy and the Association of Blind Persons, primarily as a tool to increase the accessibility of digital content to people with visual impairments or reading disabilities.
“This application, which is easy to use for all ages by using the system of converting pictures or text into speech, will ensure smooth communication, free movement and full inclusion in society and a dignified life of our compatriots. It is of exceptional importance that with the Kiko audio reader app persons with visual impairments get a functional, modern and adequate tool for the first time, which will help them in their daily lives and ensure greater independence in all spheres”, underlined Prime Minister Zaev, who expressed his satisfaction at the fact that the app will make it possible for more than 3,000 blind and visually impaired persons to listen and understand written text in their native language.
Prime Minister Zaev stressed that the Government, as a member of the United Nations, is fully committed to working on the implementation of the UN Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities.
“In 2011 our country ratified the UN Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities and as a UN member this government is fully committed to working constantly on the implementation of the Convention, at the same time ensuring equal rights and opportunities for dignified and independent life of persons with disabilities, as well as other citizens”, Prime Minister Zaev stressed and called the business community, in particular telecommunication companies, to develop audio support for as many services as possible.
The United Nations Development Programme’s Resident Representative Narine Sahakyan pointed out that the Convention reaffirms the maxim that all persons must enjoy all human rights and fundamental freedoms, with particular focus to protect the dignity of persons with disabilities.
“With today’s launch of Kiko I believe that we are one step closer to achieving that pledge. After more than a decade of hard work and dedication to supporting the national partners to fulfil the principles of the UN Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities, Kiko is an important milestone in that commitment”, said UNDP Resident Representative Narine Sahakyan.
Minister of Labour and Social Policy Jagoda Shahpaska explained that in addition to visually impaired persons, the application could be used by persons with difficulties learning, dyslexic persons and all those who understand information better in an audio format.
“Caring for vulnerable citizens is a priority for the Government, particularly for the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy. We are developing policies and undertaking activities to respond to their needs. The motto of persons with disabilities ‘nothing for us without us’ is the foundation of our policies that we are developing together with the disabled persons”, said Minister Shahpaska, adding that unlike before, when the voice was robotic, now the audio reader sounds natural, it is easily understood and accessible in a mobile and desktop version in accordance with the latest technological trends.
The president of the Association of Blind Persons Zharko Selkovski said that the tool is of great importance because blind persons can independently work, read, send mails, etc.
“This tool is first of its kind that is free of charge, fast and clear. I’m proud to be able to tell my colleagues everywhere that we have a screen reader. I would like to express my great gratitude to the Prime Minister, the Minister and UNDP for their commitment to make our daily lives easier”, Selkovski said.
The audio reader was developed upon the initiative of the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy and the United Nations Development Programme in partnership with the National Association of Blind.
The app is free and accessible in the Macedonian language, while its Albanian version is under development and will be available in a couple of months. To access the app on an Android device, download the app RHVoice from the Google Play Store and, after the app is installed, select Macedonian from the list of languages, right next to the title Kiko.