University to give patients voices back

PATIENTS with severe speech impairment could soon have a voice through new technology developed by a Yorkshire university.

The voice input communication aid (VIVOCA) was showcased to the public as part of the launch of Sheffield University’s new Centre for Assistive Technology and Connected Healthcare (CATCH).

Jon Toogood is one of the first five patients across the Sheffield city region trialling the market-ready version of VIVOCA.

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Mr Toogood, from Rotherham, has cerebral palsy and his speech is very difficult to understand except by those who know him well. VIVOCA is the only technology able to interpret his speech and translate it into a clear, synthesized voice – potentially enabling him to communicate clearly beyond his close family and friends for the first time.

He said: “I’ve been helping to design and test VIVOCA for over seven years. It helps me to communicate faster and more clearly when I need to and it’s helpful in noisy situations.

“Not being understood can be degrading, as some people assume that my speech impediment means that I must have learning difficulties and treat me like a child.

“As an intelligent adult this 
is both frustrating and annoying.”

Lead researcher Professor Mark Hawley said: “Most speech-recognition software works with standard voices, so is completely unsuitable for anyone with speech impairment.

“VIVOCA is different, because it can be trained to recognise an individual’s way of expressing themselves, whether that’s through unclear speech or basic sounds.

“The user works with VIVOCA to train the system to understand what they are trying to say.”