‘My-own-voice,’ a system for patients who are losing their ability to speak due to diseases such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) to record and later use their voice to communicate, was presented at the Annual International Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference (CSUN). The Acapela Group hosted a lecture about the process March 5, at 1.30 pm on the AssistiveWare after successfully using it on 10 patients.
Only few months after being launched, ‘my-own-voice’ has already been used by 10 users, examples of which were included in the presentation from the company specialized in novel speech solutions. The breakthrough service offers patients who suffer from ALS, aphasia, dysarthria or apraxia and have speech or language disorders the opportunity to record their voice before they lose it.
Due to these diseases, several patients end up completely losing the capacity to speak, but ‘my-own-voice’ enables patients to communicate using their voices, instead of standard anonymous synthetic ones.”For years we have been receiving requests from users or their relatives looking for a solution to re-create their voice and until today the only answer we could give was ‘we are working on it’,” explained the CEO of Acapela Group, Lars-Erik Larsson, in a press release.
“We are very proud today to announce that we have created a service to meet this specific, crucial need. We know that once diagnosed the user doesn’t have much time to capture the essence of their voice before losing it. Our goal was to develop the most convenient service for them to use, while ensuring that all the sounds we need to create a synthetic version of their voice could be recorded. My-own-voice is a first step for us in the field of speech impairment. We look forward to developing further innovative solutions to help improve the lives of users,” added Lars-Erik Larsson.
The system was developed by Acapela’s R&D team, which started by creating a novel process of recording with non-professional speakers and help from a speech therapist, but no assistance from linguists. The company developed an end user approach, and has been improving both the methodology and tools with the first experiments conducted after the finalization of clinical trials.
Among the first patients to use ‘my-own-voice’ were Eric Von Schaumburg and Garmt Van Soest, who both suffer from ALS and have already created a synthetic voice. Eric was diagnosed with the disease two years ago, and the idea of progressively losing his voice crushed him. However, Eric and his brother John started looking for a solution, which came months and several tries later.
“My brother took action and we focused on finding the best synthetic voice out there that could replicate my voice so I could ‘hear’ myself again,” explained Eric. “After trying multiple companies, we quickly learned that Acapela Group was by far the most realistic and most technologically advanced. Unfortunately, by that point, I was unable to complete the clear speaking hours necessary to create my own voice. I was depressed again.”
It seemed for Eric that is was already too late, when the Acapela Group found a solution by recording his brother’s voice, which was similar to his own, and editing it to sound deeper and more like Eric’s original voice. Now Eric thinks it sounds very realistic, and he was very happy to be able to hear his own voice again.
“The voice from Acapela is an important part of me. No, that is not a grammatical error. My voice is a part of who I am, part of my identity,” also stated Garmt about the experience. “ALS took that away quite fast. Within months, the synthetic voice sounded more like myself than I did. The first few samples that I played for my friends convinced me that the time investment was worth it, as they honestly thought I was speaking myself instead of artificially. Now, I use it almost exclusively to communicate. I am being taken apart by this disease but this part of me is safe.”
Contrary to Eric, Garmt refused to think about the fact that he was going to lose his voice. He explained that despite not having to invest a lot of time in it, it took him some effort, and he was reluctant to consider the hypothesis of losing his voice or searching for an alternative. However, with time Garmt decided to start thinking about it, and at Acapela he received all the support he needed to make up his mind.