Luganda text-to-speech: breaking barriers and promoting accessibility for visualliy impaired

In a world dominated by major languages, Luganda, spoken by over 20 million people, emerges as a newcomer in the realm of Artificial Intelligence (AI). The Luganda Neural Text-to-Speech (LNTS) system stands as a beacon of innovation, designed specifically to cater to Luganda speakers, particularly those facing visual challenges.

James Mugalu, an architect, emphasizes the importance of embracing one’s native language. For him, the LNTS system offers a unique opportunity to engage with content, such as the Bible, in Luganda, preserving the authenticity of the language and its cultural nuances.

Developed by Ronald Kizito, a researcher at Makerere University’s College of Engineering, Design, Art, and Technology (CEDAT), the LNTS system represents a significant step towards promoting health and accessibility within Luganda-speaking communities. Kizito and his team meticulously studied Luganda’s linguistic structure to develop a system that accurately converts text into speech.

The LNTS system targets individuals who comprehend Luganda but face obstacles in reading, whether due to visual impairments, illiteracy, or other physical limitations. With its ability to operate offline on basic devices or via a more sophisticated online platform, the system caters to a diverse range of users’ needs.

Despite the dominance of Text-to-Speech (TTS) technologies in languages like English, French, and Chinese, the introduction of LNTS marks a significant milestone. Funding from the government’s Research and Innovations Fund underscores the project’s importance and potential impact on the university and the wider community.

Dr. Abubaker Matovu Wasswa, Head of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Makerere University, highlights the system’s potential to alleviate the challenges associated with poor reading habits, offering users a convenient and accessible way to engage with written content.

As the LNTS project progresses, it serves as a testament to the possibilities of leveraging technology to break barriers and promote inclusivity. While currently tailored to Luganda speakers, its success paves the way for similar initiatives in other commonly spoken languages across Africa, promising a future where linguistic diversity is celebrated and access to information is universal.