30 regional accents added to AAC software to give disabled people more choice and individuality
Disabled people across the UK and Ireland who use augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) aids to speak now have more choice to use a voice that matches their preferred accent with voice banking technology from SpeakUnique and Smartbox Assistive Technology.
Working with SpeakUnique, Smartbox Assistive Technology has launched 30 new regional accents for people who are born with a disability or have not had the chance to bank their own voice.
It means people without natural speech will have the option to choose an accent that more closely matches their identity, sounding more like their family, friends, and community.
The masculine and feminine accents are for adults who use Grid AAC software from Smartbox Assistive Technology to speak. They have been created following years of research and development to improve voice banking, using AI to create a new voice from audio recordings.
Hannah Church, Customer Experience Director at Smartbox Assistive Technology, commented: “Our accents are an important part of who we are and what makes us feel connected to where we’re from. We believe everyone should have the opportunity to have a unique voice and we are excited to now provide more choice for our customers.
“Before partnering with SpeakUnique there were few voices available for many adults who want to be heard with their preferred accent. There is still so much more we want to do to improve the technology and options available for disabled people – this is just the first step, but a very important one.”
SpeakUnique “pioneered” the use of voice banking, making it available for disabled people who use Grid software on a dedicated AAC device or an iPad.
Over 1,500 people donated their voice to help create new regional accents for those who do not have natural speech.
Smartbox and SpeakUnique further worked together to help raise awareness and improve voice banking services for people who need technology to speak, for example people diagnosed with motor neurone disease (MND).
When people donate or bank their voice, they can opt in to have their recording used to create new synthetic voices, based on a combination of regional accents.
Alice Smith, CEO of SpeakUnique, added: “Our voice is an integral part of our identity and conveys a lot about who we are and where we’re from. We’re thrilled to launch this new range of synthetic voices which represent some of the diverse accents we hear across the UK.
“This will allow disabled people who use communication software to have a wider choice of voices on their Smartbox device, empowering them to share the accent that more closely reflects their identity.
“The voices were created thanks to voice ‘donations’ from people all over the UK – we’d like to thank these donors for their help, allowing us to offer this new technology.”
The new voices include accents that represent England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
Previously, mainly English or American accents have been available in speech generating apps when people who use AAC select words, letters, or symbols using a touchscreen or eye tracking camera.
Andy Higgins uses Grid software with a personalised voice and works at Smartbox to help other people using its technology.
He said: “Voices that are available for users of speech generating technology needn’t be the robotic synthesised voices from the past. Today, the technology is readily available that allows every individual who has the need for a voice, to have the choice, and have control over the gender, tone, and regionalisation of their own unique voice.
“A voice that is unique to them as yours is to you, a voice that identifies them with the community that they live in and is recognisable to others as their own voice. Today, we can create a voice from old recordings of your own voice or create voices from other people’s voices when they have been donated.”