Our speech and language team has adopted innovative technology to allow people at risk of speech loss to still communicate with their loved ones.
The voice banking technology is a way to give patients their voice back after speech loss.
The innovative software adapts a patient’s voice and creates a new synthetic voice which maintains their characteristics and accent. Patients can then type in an app on their phone or tablet to talk using this digital voice.
Adult speech and language therapist Zoe Underwood, a 30-year-old Ingleby Barwick resident, is leading on the project at the Trust. She assists patients in completing a processing system to create their digital voice.
She primarily uses voice banking for both hospital and community patients who are at risk of permanent speech loss. For example, those with motor-neuron disease, Parkinson’s, multiple system atrophy or progressive supra nuclear palsy.
Zoe said: “The purpose of voice banking is to still give someone a sense of their identity, even when they are losing their voice.
“It’s a little bit computer-y still but it really does have a lot of characteristics of a person’s voice.
“It gives families a lot of comfort because they’re able to support their loved ones and their loved ones are able to communicate with them. But in a personal way so it still sounds like them.”
Voice banking: Maintaining self-identity
Zoe: So voice banking is a way to create a synthetic voice but it’s based on your own voice.
Digital voice: Voice banking is for someone who may lose their voice in the future for example in motor neuron disease or progressive supranuclear palsy.
Zoe: And so you record a few sentences and the company then create a voice. It has all the characteristics like your accent but it does still sound a little bit computery.
Digital voice: Voice banking enables people to keep a sense of their identity when they are losing their voices.
Zoe: It really gives families a lot of support really because they’re able to support their loved ones and their loved ones are able to communicate with them telling them anything they need to but also in a personal way so it still sounds like them.
Alongside voice banking you can do some message banking and that keeps the person’s own speech so the messages are literally recorded and then it will come out of the device in their own voice.
Digital voice: There are many different ways to voice bank.
Zoe: So there are few different softwares you can use. One’s called Acapela and one is called Speak Unique which is using my voice today.
As people lose the ability to speak they have to maybe use a phone to communicate or maybe something a little bit bigger like a tablet. Initially, especially in most neuron disease, they might be able to use their hands to control this but there may come a time where they have to use their eyes or potentially a head switch. There is a little bit of a time delay with this. So you have to wait for the person to type the message before they’re able to say what they need to say. So I’ll give an example.
Digital voice: Can I have a drink please?
Zoe: So as you can see it does take a little bit longer than it would to say but it is still a great way of letting people get their message across and to be able to make those requests.
How does it work?
Alongside voice banking, patients can bank personal messages while they still have the ability to do so. These are recorded phrases in the patient’s own voice that can be played back at a touch of a button. They offer comfort to loved ones.
The Trust is still in the early stages of using this software. So far, six patients have banked their voice. They will be given their digital voice if and when they reach a stage where they need it.
The Trust primarily uses two different services for voice banking – Acapela and Speak Unique, however other software is available. Patients read and record a number of phrases to create a comprehensive voice sample. The software then creates a synthetic voice as an approximation of their voice.
After losing their speech, patients can use a smart phone or tablet – provided by local charities if they don’t have their own – to talk to people. If they can’t use their hands, they can use eye tracking or a head switch to control the software.
Zoe continued: “It does mean there is a little bit of a time delay in a conversation as you have to wait for the person to type.
“But this is a really great way of allowing people to get their message across while maintaining their self-identity.”