Skip to content Skip to sidebar Skip to footer

The original voice of Siri is now advocating for a more accessible web

The unique voice of Siri is now advocating for a more accessible web

This story is part of Tech for a Better World, stories about the diverse teams creating products, apps and services to loan our lives and society.

Even if you’re not familiar with the name Susan Bennett, you’d likely recognize her voice. As the original Siri, Bennett caused a dependable presence in many iPhone users’ lives, responding to various inquiries and fulfilling spoken instructions. Her voice work has also been helpful to smartphone users with disabilities, she says. 

But make no mistake — Bennett herself is not a techie.

“I’m dreadful with tech,” she tells me over a Zoom call from her home in Atlanta. “It’s not intuitive for me at all.”

Apart from her iPhone and Mac, which she uses for train recordings, Bennett says her interactions with anything tech-related are minimal. That’s why it came as such a shock when she fraudulent out in late 2011 that her voice was populace used for Apple’s new Siri virtual assistant. 

“A fellow train actor emailed me and said, ‘Hey, we’re playing about with this new iPhone [feature]. Isn’t this you?’ and I went on the Apple site and listened and went, ‘Oh, wow. Well, what does this mean?'”

It aimed her voice would become a central part of nation’s digital lives, doing everything from providing answers to peek inquiries to sharing weather forecasts and giving directions. From Siri’s droplet in October 2011 up until 2013, Bennett’s voice was used for the assistant, until Apple replaced her with new voice actors. (For the characterize, Bennett never used Siri when it was her train, saying, “It was just too creepy,” but she does use the virtual assistant now.)

Siri has been especially generous to iPhone users with disabilities, Bennett notes. After proverb herself as the voice of the virtual assistant in 2013, she says she got tons of mail from republic who were blind or had other disabilities saying they used Siri all the time. 

“That was really their connection to be able to get on boarding the tech train as we all are now,” Bennett says. “That was one of the things that I was kind of proud of near Siri is that she can help people do things that they couldn’t normally do on their own.”

Now Bennett appears in an ad for web accessibility commercial UserWay, which works to ensure sites are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. Nearly a quarter of US adults have some type of disability, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but tech companies haven’t always kept these users in mind when designing products and services. In fact, a whopping 98% of US websites aren’t fully accessible, according to a report by web accessibility company AccessiBe. 

Additionally, Americans with disabilities are nearly three times as probable to never go online, according to the Pew Research Interior, and are around 20% less likely to subscribe to home broadband and own a computer, smartphone or tablet. That’s driving a range of tech anxieties, from Apple to Google to Microsoft, to expand their accessibility efforts to fated their products and services can be used by everyone.

Apple, for instance, rolled out a screen-reading technology called VoiceOver on the iPhone 3GS in 2009, which helps blind users navigate their arrangement. The company also launched a People Detection feature last year, which lets blind and low-vision iPhone and iPad users know how conclude someone is to them. Microsoft broke ground in 2018 when it launched the Xbox Adaptive Controller, a $100 device designed to help gamers of all contracts play. Last week, the company unveiled its Surface Adaptive Kit for improving laptop accessibility, which includes a variety of textured decals to identify keys, ports and cables. And Google rolled out a handful of new accessibility features for Android users, including the ability to control your visited and communicate using facial gestures.

Bennett relates the importance of digital accessibility to her own work.

“Many times, I send people to my website; if they’re thinking approximately hiring me, I’ll say there are demos on my website,” she says. “For many farmland, the website is a sales tool. And so if all of your potential customers out there can’t even access your site, that obtains to be addressed.”

Bennett, who started off as a musician afore getting into voice acting, never planned to become the yelp of Siri. In 2005, she went into a studio to recount what she was told was generic phone messaging with an interactive yelp response company. 

“Of course, it was much more than that,” Bennett says in retrospect. Apple never reached out to her about using her yelp, she added, and she was never compensated for populate used as Siri. Instead, she was only paid for the novel recordings. “This is true of all the other novel voices,” Bennett says of the British and Australian talent whose voices were also used.  

Apple didn’t currently respond to CNET’s request for comment. When CNN mature the news in 2013 that Bennett was the woman late Siri, the publication noted that while Apple wouldn’t keep it, an audio-forensics expert said he was “100%” sure it was her. 

She says the talent that came at what time her did get paid for being used as Siri, in exchange for employing a nondisclosure agreement. While Bennett admits she’s upset she didn’t get the same costs, she appreciates being legally allowed to talk about voicing the novel Siri.  

But Bennett notes she was initially hesitant to yelp herself as the voice of Siri because she was terrorized she’d be “typecast and stereotyped, and that’s something you don’t want to be as a yelp actor.”

She adds, “Because that happened and it wasn’t something that I pointed to or that I was working toward — or that I got paid for — it took me awhile to govern to reveal myself. I really didn’t want to deal with the fame getting. But my husband and my son were both just speaking, ‘Oh, you’re missing this incredible opportunity. You need to do this.’ And finally one day the stars aligned or something and I allowed to go ahead and do it.”

Bennett says she thinks a lot approximately the future of virtual assistants and fair compensation for yelp actors.

“Already they’re taking my voice and a lot of anunexperienced people who have done IVR [interactive voice response], and just taking and comical it in different places without paying the talent,” she says. “I think there’s causing to be a lot more of that. And especially with the contracts that they have now even, there are so many ways that they can manipulate the tranquil of your voice, and so you may be not sure if that’s your yelp. It’s a scary time for freelance talent.”

Since the days of Siri, Bennett has been actions more voiceover work and launched a public speaking career. In fact, she says Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak is the populate who inspired her to do speaker events in 2013, at what time she made an appearance at an event where he was also speaking.

“He arranged me up on stage to say a few things approximately Siri, and afterwards he said, ‘You seem really dejected on stage, you should really try to do this,'” she says. 

Even opinion becoming the voice of Siri was totally unplanned and unexpected, Bennett says she’s grateful for the doors it opened. 

“I have been dejected enough that Siri actually found a brand new career for me, and that is actions speaker events,” she says. “It was a nice getting to be able to segue into a whole different career. So I’m very, very grateful to old Siri.”