Haroon is a massive cricket fan who lives in North London with his mum. He has a degree in Media Studies, and loves to write about sport for his 240 followers on Facebook. He uses a wheelchair and has atypical speech, and he joined our project through the Caritas St Joseph’s Centre in London. To communicate, Haroon’s carer Leanne often ‘translates’ or ‘re-speaks’ what he is saying for others. Occasionally Haroon uses a LightWriter communication aid which allows him to type a phrase and have it read aloud. Haroon’s first language is English, while his mum’s is Urdu. The combination of atypical speech plus language differences has created significant communication barriers for them.
Haroon was keen to try different hardware options to remove barriers to using Voiceitt. Haroon initially recorded his first 5 phrases on an iPad with support from his carer, as he didn’t have a microphone with his desktop PC. He found this frustrating as he prefers having independent access, so we provided a speakerphone which sits on his desk and doesn’t require him to use a headset. We supported Haroon to download Zoom onto his desktop, and he was able to take part in voice sampling independently from that point.
Haroon explained to us why he enjoys taking part:
- It’s a kind of “job” that keeps him occupied.
- He enjoys helping others by contributing to the research.
- He feels the process is “like speech therapy”.
- Haroon is competitive and he likes earning points/beating targets!
Haroon demonstrated voice sampling for his mum who had been curious as to why he was speaking when alone in his room! Increased communication with his family is one of the top reasons why Haroon joined as a participant. He explained that because we helped him get Zoom and a speakerphone set up with his desktop PC, he can now call his brother who lives in Singapore.
Haroon is optimistic about the impact Voiceitt may have on his life in the future. He emphasised that his top desire for Voiceitt is to be able to use it to speak with his mum. He cracked a joke:
After 52 years, I’d like her to understand [me]!
As the project ends, having completed his training recordings in Ensemble, Haroon is now testing Voiceitt’s new dictation tool with ongoing support directly from Voiceitt.
Lara joined Nuvoic as a student at National Star Specialist College in Cheltenham. She’s a huge Ed Sheeran fan and loves listening to audiobooks and watching thrillers and crime documentaries, and was also studying for a Diploma in Criminology in her spare time! Her favourite pastime is eating out and choosing recipes.
Lara finds that unfamiliar people often don’t understand her speech which makes it difficult to talk with people, especially if she doesn’t know them well. Her speech difficulties never stop her giving her opinions, but sometimes stop her from getting things she wants, or from getting to know people or chatting with friends the way she’d like to. They also affect her independence, meaning that she sometimes has to rely on other people to speak for her.
Lara wanted to use her own voice rather than a touchscreen communication aid, so she was keen to try the Voiceitt app. Lara’s Speech and Language Therapist (SLT) was keen to explore the app with Lara during their weekly sessions together. They focused mainly on using the app for communication, while Lara tried out the Smart Home features at home with family. The project team helped them get started with the app and kept in touch to hear how things were going.
Together, Lara and her SLT decided to work towards using Voiceitt to order a drink in a local café:
I used it in a cafe to order a drink. At first I ordered without using Voiceitt but the person serving didn’t understand me so I tried again with Voiceitt. The recognition worked well but I needed someone to hold my phone close to my mouth. The person serving heard the message ok and got me what I ordered.
Her SLT said:
I’ve been really impressed with how Voiceitt has helped Lara. Before, she would never have tried to order in a café but using Voiceitt has given her more confidence to try it.
At home, Lara has explored the Smart Home controls in Voiceitt. Her priority was to play her favourite albums and playlists through her Echo dot, and she’s also setup commands to play audiobooks and control a smart bulb in her bedroom.
I like how it lets me use my voice to control technology.
With three younger siblings, background noise is a big issue and can affect how well the app works, and Lara would prefer to have Voiceitt’s recognition ‘built-in’ to her smart speaker so she doesn’t have to use a separate app on her phone. She passed this and other feedback to Voiceitt through the project team and they’re now working on these improvements.
Sarah lives in Leicester, UK, and works at Portland College, near Nottingham. In her free time, she enjoys horse-riding and spending time with her family, including her two young nephews, and likes to keep fit and active. She uses a wheelchair and has atypical speech.
Speech difficulties never stop Sarah from giving her opinions but can sometimes make it hard for her to socialise in large groups or with unfamiliar people, and can prevent her from being as independent as she’d like. Sarah finds that although most people understand her speech, mainstream voice recognition doesn’t work for her as it doesn’t recognise her speech patterns.
Sarah remembers the first time Voiceitt understood her, she felt “absolutely amazing”! She can train new commands independently and really likes how the app has enabled her to use Alexa, which she couldn’t do before. She mainly uses it to ask about the news and weather, play music and control a smart light.
I really enjoyed taking part in the Voiceitt trial. I could never use Alexa before due to my speech impairment, as it didn’t recognise my voice. Also, being able to access the news and weather without Googling it every day has been ideal.
Sarah works at Portland College, a specialist residential college for learners with physical and learning disabilities, with education and care programmes focusing on independence, well-being and employability. With funding from the Ian Karten Charitable Trust, Portland has recently refurbished The Maples bungalow with a wide range of voice-controlled assistive and Smart Home equipment. Through term-time The Maples is used by learners to develop independence and communication skills, while during the holidays there are plans to offer The Maples as an assessment space for visitors to try out different equipment with support from their own Occupational Therapy and support teams.
Through links with Sarah and Portland College, the Karten team has visited The Maples and setup voice access through Voiceitt to a wide range of equipment, including lights, blinds, heating, cameras, TVs, a robot vacuum, smart fridge and non-smart devices such as a drinks maker and bubble tube via smart plugs. Sarah can now control the full range of equipment at The Maples, both for her own use while working there and to demonstrate to learners, and the Portland team are now able to offer voice access to others with atypical speech in the future.
Through the use of routines, Sarah can use a single command to operate multiple devices at once, such as ‘Good morning’ to activate the lights and open the blinds throughout the bungalow, or ‘Let’s chill out’ to set the lighting, music and bubble tube in the chill-out room. This short video shows some of these in action.
The Portland team is finding that the power to manipulate their environment is incredibly motivating for learners, especially for those who use augmentative and alternative communication (AAC). Through the Nuvoic Project, these opportunities are now also available to those with atypical speech who prefer to use their own voice over traditional AAC. Using insights from her work at The Maples, Sarah is currently planning refurbishment work at home, including installation of new Smart Home and assistive technology to help her be more independent. She plans to use Voiceitt in the future to control a wide range of Smart Home equipment, with support from the Karten project team to choose and setup the technology she wants.