Category Archives: Client

Oral Histories and Legacies

Leaving an oral history or legacy is something that can be important to those with life limiting conditions.  Our team works with people with communication difficulties who rely on AAC systems to communicate and I (Nicola) was curious to investigate what services are available for people with life limiting conditions to leave a legacy for friends and families. I have had client’s that have left letters and planned their funerals using AAC systems that family have found subsequent to their death.  I have also had requests that family copy information that is stored on the systems to remember the person by.  However, I had felt that I was unable to support or guide people to services if they do want to leave something for their friends and family, so I went to find out more.

Legacy Service

My self and our team’s clinical psychologist met with the organiser from a local hospice, who coordinate a team of volunteers who support people with life limiting conditions to create an oral history for friends and family. This service has been running since 2013 when it was set up as part of a research project by the University of Sheffield and Macmillan Cancer Support.

The Macmillan service will support people referred to their service to create an audio recording. They do this in a number of different ways and will be guided by the individual.  They offer an interview, desert island discs, personal histories and memory boxes.  They use a crib sheet, but it is very much what the person wants to talk about and the facilitator just offers encouragement.

To do this, the service uses high quality recording equipment, funded by donations, the microphones on the system are small and frequently the person will forget that they are using them.  Recordings can be done either  on site or at the person’s home.  They need a quiet room and the service will offer emotional support.  The service then uses software called “audacity” to edit the audio together – so that the person does not need to do it in one go.  The service reported finding that the process can be beneficial for the person as a reflective exercise.

The Macmillan service have discussed using video with clients – however feedback so far has been that this would not be positive, including for reasons that the person could see physical changes in themselves. This may change in the future as younger people live their lives through social media.

Once completed, the person signs a consent form for who they want to access the recording. A CD is produced or people can have it in a digital format.  They can also consent to have the recording saved with the University of Sheffield as part of the research project to develop a growing oral social history to help future generations connect with real people from the past.  There is very little other research on the topic of leaving oral histories and legacies by people with life limiting conditions.  The research reported benefits for the participants and the importance of it being their voice.

Legacy using AAC

The service in Sheffield does support people with communication difficulties and have found that this takes more planning.  They did have one person referred to their service who used a communication aid, but following discussions this person did not follow through as she felt that the voice was not hers.

I now feel that I can discuss and offer sign post to services that will enable our clients to complete this, if that is what they want to do. It is a very personal thing and is not for everyone. When possible it should be offered prior to deterioration or loss of speech, but this is not always possible.  The hospice now feels that the local AAC service can support them if they have issues support people who use AAC to access the service.  For client’s using AAC it may be a matter of leaving the information in other ways such as in writing, videos, photographs as well as through their communication aid.  If you work with people using AAC I would urge you to offer and support people to enable them to leave a legacy behind and not be held back by their communication issues.


Multi Sensory Keyguide

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

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.

Creating a Personalised Synthetic Voice (Voice Banking)

‘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 creating his voice.  Greg has made a video about his voice banking experience at:


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”:

My recorded voice

ModelTalker synthesised speech.

My-Own-Voice synthesised speech.


Feel free to download the information sheet  we have produced about voice and message banking from our website. This summary includes some hints and tips to think about when considering  the process of  recording words and/or phrases or creating a synthetic personalised voice.

In a future post we will discuss the difference between Voice Banking, Message Banking and other approaches to retaining identity in the use of communication aids.  As we write this post, breaking news is that Amy Roman, an AAC specialist in the USA has created a resource for message banking – MessageBanking.Com . This is discussed on this thread on the fantastic AT ALS email  list.

Barnsley AT Team Published in Communication Matters Journal

Barnsley AT made a healthy contribution to the 2014 Communication Matters Conference at the University of Leeds with several presentations:


Review of AAC Stroke Cases to Identify Common Practice and Consider Outcomes

Using Speech Sounds to Construct Messages for Aided Communication

Where to Start? A journey through a complex AAC assessment

A Newly Developed Computerised Accessible Receptive Language Assessment (CARLA)

Could Speaker Identification Improve the Effectiveness of Aided Communication?

Some of those who presented in 2014 have subsequently had their work published in the latest copy of the Communication Matters Journal.

Cybathlon 2016

Peter, one of our clients, is taking part in Cybathlon 2016 (, which is a Championship for Robot-Assisted Parathletes taking place in Switzerland in October next year. Peter has entered the Brain Computer Interface race, in which he will control an on-screen avatar around a race track using his thoughts. There are two parts to the competition, the race itself and also the development of the technology that will make it possible to control the avatar. Peter is expecting a delivery of a prototype of the equipment any day now so that he can test it out.

Peter has a spinal cord injury, and one of his motivations for getting involved in this project is to assist with the development of brain-computer interaction technology, as it has the potential to assist him and others in similar situations to operate equipment more efficiently in everyday life. Peter currently uses a voice activated environmental controller to control equipment in his home such as his television and telephone, and he uses a combination of voice recognition and a Headmouse to control his computer (a headmouse camera tracks a reflective dot on your forehead, allowing you to control the movement of the mouse pointer with your head movement). The development of brain-control technology may offer alternative ways of controlling these sorts of things in the future, which is an exciting prospect.

We at the Assistive Technology Team would like to wish Peter all the best in this competition, and we look forward to hearing the next instalment in the build-up to the big day!

For more information on Peter’s and the team’s preparations, go to

Raising AAC awareness

It’s great to see our equipment being used to raise awareness of communication aids.

Beth, one of our team’s clients, recently gave a talk at a charity event using her Ipad and iadapter case. Beth has Multiple Sclerosis which means she suffers from muscle fatigue, her voice is very weak and her speech difficult to understand. However, Beth clearly has plenty to say and the communication aid has given her the confidence to speak in public. This is what she said about it:

I gave a speech during the week at a charity event, using my machine, everyone said they could understand it clearly, it was a wonderful success.
The speech was given to about 50 people including the Mayor of Doncaster, in a 80’s style greenhouse/library type of hall, (meeting house). I had the iAdapter on the highest volume, every one claimed that they could hear and understood the machine fine. I had prepped most of the speech, however at the end I decided to have spontaneous end, where I could answer questions in a Q&A ending. That worked really well, however if I had not been on top form l wouldn’t have tried, I had something prepped in case I needed it. My voice could not have been heard in the main hall.
Everyone commented how good the speech was.

Great work Beth! Let’s hope that Beth’s talk helps raise awareness of others with similar needs.