Auto-Tune is software that can make bad singers sound competent, or game show hosts sound stoned. Wonder if the technology could also be used to modify the voices of people with dysarthric speech so that speech recognition applications would recognize them better?
Roger Ebert (again) on the value of Twitter as augmentative communication:
“Twitter for me performs the function of a running conversation. For someone who cannot speak, it allows a way to unload my zingers and one-liners. One of the problems with written notes and computer voices is that, by their nature, their timing doesn’t work. I used to have good timing. Now in real life a conversation will be whizzing along and a line will pop into my head and by the time I write it down and get someone to read it, the moment and the context will have disappeared. Often everything will grind to a halt while I remind people what I was referring to.”
Researchers in Germany have come up with a pretty cool piece of technology: measure the facial muscle movement as someone is silently mouthing words, translate that into the equivalent sounds, and send the results via phone or other device. We have a lot of questions–first off, how does it measure tongue movement to distinguish between, say, “pat” and “bat”?–but we still see the potential of this as an augmentative communication method.
We’ve previously discussed the benefits of running augmentative communication software on mainstream platforms, such as computers and iPhones, over having monopurpose AugCom devices. Cost efficiency is one argument; normalization another. But in the middle of this month’s moving Esquire interview with Roger Ebert, a striking advantage emerged: the broad functionality of mainstream tech permits creativity of expression in a way that developers of specialized devices might never foresee.
“This time, the anger [over Disney's deletion of videos honoring Gene Siskel that were linked from Ebert's website] lasts long enough for Ebert to write it down. He opens a new page in his text-to-speech program, a blank white sheet. He types in capital letters, stabbing at the keys with his delicate, trembling hands: MY TRIBUTE, appears behind the cursor in the top left corner. ON THE FIRST SHOW AFTER HIS DEATH. But Ebert doesn’t press the button that fires up the speakers. He presses a different button, a button that makes the words bigger. He presses the button again and again and again, the words growing bigger and bigger and bigger until they become too big to fit the screen, now they’re just letters, but he keeps hitting the button, bigger and bigger still, now just shapes and angles, just geometry filling the white screen with black like the three squares. Roger Ebert is shaking, his entire body is shaking, and he’s still hitting the button, bang, bang, bang, and he’s shouting now. He’s standing outside on the street corner and he’s arching his back and he’s shouting at the top of his lungs.”
OK, so Tyler Menscher, the first kid to Tweet in utero, is almost a year old, and probably still going through Twitter withdrawl. Fear not, boychik; someone has hacked a Fisher Price Activity Sensor so that sustained pressure on one of multiple inserted pictures results in the sending of a preprogrammed tweet. It’s called the Twoddler (is no word starting with “t” and a vowel safe these days?), but the technical concept has intriguing implications for folks who would benefit from a very simple communication device to relay messages to anyone outside their immediate vicinity.
Adults and elders can have a variety of priorities when selecting assistive technologies–efficiency, cost, portability, durability, etc. Kids tend to have one: whether or not the technology makes them look cooler, or at least as cool, as their peers. Take speech therapy software, which has tended to have exercises such as using specific tones to move a monkey up a tree; hokey for kids, and probably of minimal interest to most adults. How much more groovy (that word’s back in circulation, right?!) to consider use of the Scoring Karaoke Game, which allows users to pick their own songs and then score points for staying on pitch. Any speech therapists want to comment on how this could be used or modified in their practice?
Since shouting seems to have replaced baseball as the national pasttime, it seems fair that there should be some type of augmentative communication device that lets people with speech disabilities get in on the antagonizing. The Recordable Supporter’s Megaphone allows your chant of choice to be recorded and then played back for up to 8 hours at a time, and has a siren on the side for punctuation.