Georgia Southern adding to voice bank for ALS patients, others

University center inviting students, faculty to help in restoring ability to speak

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by Mary Chapman |

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To help those who have lost their ability to speak easily, Georgia Southern University’s RiteCare Center for Communications Disorders again is recruiting students, faculty, and staff members to make recordings for submission to a voice bank.

The center’s third annual Voice Drive, which runs through May 2, is aimed at improving communication for people with diseases that rob them of their voice, such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Huntington’s disease, apraxia, and aphasia.

Participants may make recordings at their home. Once the voices are submitted to VocalID, a voice artificial intelligence company, and stored in its human voice bank, patients with speech loss can use the recordings to help create a voice for themselves.

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“A voice is unique to an individual, and the loss of a voice may result in a loss of one’s identity,” Tory Candea, the RiteCare Center’s clinical coordinator, said in a university press release. “The use of Augmentative Alternative Communication (ACC) can assist those who have lost their voices, yet the standard voices programmed on ACC devices may sound mechanical, robotic, or unnatural.”

A common ALS symptom, estimated to affect more than 80% of patients at some point, is dysarthria, or speech problems due to weakness in muscles around the mouth and jaw. Dysarthria can be marked by difficulty pronouncing consonants, slow and slurred speech, trouble moving the tongue, voice quality issues, and weak or overreactive gag reflex.

Patients also frequently feel tired after speaking, and weakened lung muscles make voice projection difficult. As ALS advances, people tend to speak less and use shorter sentences as their disorder advances.

It takes about 3,500 sentences to create a complete digital voice, according to RiteCare. Such collection takes an average of five to seven hours, with recordings broken into 10- to 15-minute sessions over several weeks. This year’s goal is 15,000 sentences, up from the 9,696 collected last year. Participants will need a computer and microphone headset.

“The more individuals who donate their voices, the more options a person who has lost their voice is able to choose from, allowing them the opportunity to find a voice that better matches their personality and identity,” Candea said. “By hosting this voice drive, we hope to help these individuals retrieve control over their voice and improve their overall ability to communicate.”

To register for Voice Drive or to receive more information, send an email to Candea at [email protected]

The RiteCare Center assesses and treats those with communication disorders or delays. Services are provided by graduate students in the speech-pathology program at the Georgia Southern University Armstrong Campus. The students are supervised by licensed and certified speech-language pathologists.