Working with clients with visual impairments offers challenges within the field of AAC that are unique and can require imaginative solutions to enable the client access to their device.
After supporting a young child with no functional vision for numerous months, progress in terms of his ability of navigating through the ‘pages’ of his language package on his communication aid was limited. This child was accessing his 45 location Wordpower language package set via a standard key guard and appeared initially to be making good progress in terms of remembering where specific vocab items were located.
As a navigation strategy, the child was supported to place his hand at the top left of his device and then move down the columns and then from left to right across the rows. He was able to press a few cells before his chosen cell and used the auditory feedback to cue him in as to where he was on the page. However after a period of use of this method his progress appeared to have plateaued and his targeting was not getting more accurate.
After discussion with one of our mechanical techniologists a multi sensory keyguide was developed using the department’s new laser cutter. This keyguide was layered – the top layer splits the page into eight sections and then on the bottom layer within each section six shapes (circle, star, square, triangle, diamond, oval) are cut. In this way the child is provided with a sensory code/cue for each cell of the vocabulary package and this should allow himself to orientate himself and more easily learn the use of the system.
Multi sensory keyguide showing layered shapes
Multi sensory Keyguide showing vocabulary
We are looking forward to reviewing this child and seeing if this multi sensory keyguide has supported his ability to learn his AAC language package more effectively.
‘Voice banking’ has been discussed quite a lot within the AAC field recently and so, as a team, we have been exploring this and other similar techniques in more depth.
As the team member volunteered to test out the packages available to create a personalised synthetic voice I have spent what feels like weeks recording countless phrases! I have now created two personalised voices, one using ModelTalker and one using My-Own-Voice. This post is a summary of the experience of creating these voices (including example recordings of the result). We also have a fact sheet on our website with information about the options.
Last week it was fantastic to finally hear the results of all the hours of recording into the ModelTalker voice recorder. The process has been frustrating to say the least! I have good quality voice, had access to the quiet surroundings required and a decent microphone and was pretty competent in the IT stuff needed to set up the ModelTalker recordings – but even so it wasn’t plain sailing. At times it seemed impossible to get a “green” light recording with all parameters at an acceptable level, and so, individual phrases had to be re-recorded numerous times, even though as far as I was aware all environmental factors, recording volume and voice quality were unchanged. The tiring factor, even for me with a robust voice, was telling, and it was difficult to record successfully for more than a couple of hours at a time. Connection at times was lost, and at times the programme froze, which again slowed the recording process and sometimes meant that the time set aside to record could not be used.
The ModelTalker documentation suggests that the recordings can be completed in 6-8 hours. However, it took me far longer than this and a lot of my phrases were submitted as an “amber” recording; meaning acceptable, but not perfect. Consequently, it is very evident that for most of our clients a comprehensive level of support during the recording process would probably be needed to get the best outcome.
However, on hearing the final product I can safely say that the voice that has been created definitely sounds like me – and creating and using this voice is currently completely free! The speech produced can be a little disjointed at times, irregular English spelling patterns create it some pronunciation difficulties and the intelligibility decreases in longer utterances, but the overall quality definitely shows features of my voice
Alongside this process I have begun working with a client, Greg, who, with support from his local therapist, Jennifer Benson, has created his own ModelTalker voice which he now uses on Predictable. To hear about the process I had just undertaken, from a client’s perspective, has been fascinating . Greg came across similar frustrations to those I have highlighted during the recording process and the tiring effect was very significant for him. However, for Greg, the pay off of having his own voice on his communication app seems to outweigh any of the difficulties he encountered.in creating his voice. Greg has made a video about his voice banking experience at: https://youtu.be/DYdSTNDYBWE.
After the hours taken to record my voice using the ModelTalker platform, the creation of a personalised voice using “My-Own-Voice” seemed a lot less time consuming. Although the total number of phrases needed to be recorded were similar to ModelTalker, the “My-Own-Voice” only took around 5 hours to make. The re-recordings needed were minimal and generally the process was less disrupted, with the recording working consistently each time I attempted to record a phrase. The navigation through the phrases as I recorded them seemed a lot more intuitive and I was able to seamlessly record one phrase after another.
Once more the voice created does sound like me, although there are some definite issues! Certain speech sounds do not sound at all like they should, particularly word endings and some word initial consonant blends. In connected speech, intonation patterns can sound a little odd at times and the boundaries between words sound quite slurred which definitely has a negative impact on intelligibility.
The My-Own-Voice process is free to record and create a voice, but you then need to apply for a costing to use the voice you have created on a communication aid.
Comparing the Results
For the purposes of comparison, I recorded a phrase as a direct voice recording and then created it using my personalised synthetic speech with “ModelTalker” and “My-Own-Voice”. You can compare the results for yourself by listening below, the phrase I used was “I am sat here, writing this blog, to allow you to compare the personalised voices that can be created by two web based programmes; ModelTalker and My-Own-Voice”: