A charity in England is helping gather voice donations and synthesize appropriate voices for those who can not speak.
The Find My Voice project sends out calls for voice donors to record their voices, so students at National Star College in south-west England can make their choice.
“Our standard voices start with recordings by a voice banker or a voice donor. Lots of sentences are recorded and then we use software to excise the small segments, phonetic segments, or phonemes, from those sentences, and store them in a database labelled with linguistic information. So that we can find them by linguistic information. Then our synthesis software is able to search that database and find the individual segments to mix and match and paste together in a way that creates novel sentences. Ones that weren’t recorded but sound just like they were recorded by the original speaker”, ModelTalker Project Director, Tim Bunnell said.
Beneficiaries like Leo with cerebral palsy and other disabilities, depend on technology for their voices. But often times,that voice isnt appropriate to their age.
“I like to sing. A robotic voice is too slow. My voice sounds the same as other AAC (augmentative and alternative communication) users. It’s hard to know it’s me. I feel sad about my voice. A new voice would change my life”, Leo Carstensen, a National Star student said.
For Jason Felce “I want a different voice because I want to sound more like my family. The voice I have now makes me sound like a posh old man in his sixties (laughs).’‘
Voice donors are humbled to be of help to those in need.
“It just makes me happier. He’s always been my main thing. So as long as he’s happy, I’m happy. And I’ll do anything for him. And I think this completes it now. He’s got his freedom with his chair and now he’s got his own voice. So it’s all complete for him now,’‘ voice donor, Robert Groves said.
The project begun this year and the charity believes it’s seen the benefits of the project for young people who they want to help to live as independently as possible.
Simon Welch is Principal of National Star. ‘‘The young people that have been through this project and have now got their own personalised voices are telling us that actually they think it is essential now. That this is an opportunity that they have and that has really helped them in terms of preparing them for the next stage of their lift, moving into adulthood. So for us our priority is making sure that we find a way that this is a sustainable service”, Welch said.
In the UK, about 6,000 young people depend on communication devices as their voices. At National Star, 22 percent of students use a communication device.The device costs the charity about £500 to make a single voice.