Recently there has been a significant focus in the media on how technology can be used to support a person who has a progressive, medically caused communication disorder. This focus has shone a welcome public light on both the practical and psychological impacts of living with a communication difficulty. The following information aims to provide information on how message and voice banking can help with these factors and how a Speech and Language Therapist (SLT) can help.
Planning ahead is a consideration for any person who may experience a future reduction in their speech clarity or lose their ability to speak. A progressive neurological condition, such as Motor Neurone Disease, Multiple Sclerosis, Multiple System Atrophy or Parkinson’s disease, can affect the muscles used for speech and as a result speech clarity can reduce over time to a point where it becomes difficult to understand. People who have a head and neck cancer may also need to plan ahead if they will have a permanent change to their speech anatomy as a result of a surgery.
Message banking involves making a list of personally meaningful phrases, sentences, and ways of saying things and then making voice recordings of those phrases while speech quality is clear enough to be easily understood. These recordings can then be uploaded into an electronic communication system and played out during a conversation.
When played, they will sound exactly as recorded. The aim is not to record every possible word or sentence but to capture utterances that reflect the person’s personality. People often choose to record terms of endearment, sarcastic or humorous comments, greetings, names of loved ones or pets. Message banking is free and just needs a good quality voice recorder, which an SLT can advise on.
Voice Banking involves recording an inventory of speech which can then be processed by computer software to form a digital representation of a person’s voice.
Voice Banking is publicly available in different formats through a number of online companies. Typically, these companies require the user to read aloud some scripted sentences. The company then creates a digital version of the user’s voice which can be purchased as a download.
The cost varies across companies. Recording needs to be done while speech clarity is very good. The final electronic version will not sound exactly like natural speech as it will be computerised.
For people who have already have a mild to moderate speech deterioration, there are some options for a variation of voice banking known as voice repair which involves blending their current speech with file recordings from another speaker to smooth out the clarity.
For people whose speech quality has already significantly deteriorated, they can nominate a friend or relative with a similar accent to make recordings on their behalf, known as voice banking by proxy.
It is important to note that some people decide that they do not wish to make any speech recordings. This will not impact on their future options for communication aids.
All electronic systems have in-built generic synthesised voices that can be selected and used alongside or instead of a person’s own recordings.