Sunday, 13 August 2017

Losing a voice through Motor Neurone Disease and gaining a voice through Voicebank

This is a powerful and emotional documentary about Lucy Lintott, the youngest person with motor neurone disease in Scotland.

'Lucy Lintott, is becoming paralysed - she can no longer walk unassisted and she's losing her voice - not great for a chatterbox like Lucy. Even though she's been given only a few years to live, Lucy is determined to do what 22 year olds do - including dating. Over a six-month period, this lover of food and country music reveals how she is struggling to hold on to her personality and her infectious laugh.

Lucy visits Newcastle where she meets a stand-up comedian who can still crack a joke even though he can't speak.

In an emotional photographic sitting with portrait photographer Rankin, Lucy confronts two polarised parts of herself - the perfect Lucy pre-diagnosis, and the broken Lucy three years after diagnosis.'

Lucy visits Speak:Unique, a research project at the University of Edinburgh, where her voice was recorded in order for a synthetic voice to be made in case she loses her ability to talk.

For the best results, the person would record their voice before there has been any effect on their speech.

But, as is the case for Lucy, if there has already been some impact on the speech of the person, it may be possible to ‘repair’ some of the voice by adding in higher levels of another person's voice (a donor voice). Lucy's sister was a donor voice and also had her voice recorded.

During the recording session they said a selection of 400 sentences that include the various combinations of English speech sounds. While 400 sentences is an ideal number, a synthetic voice can be generated from as little as 100 sentences if people aren’t able to manage the 400. This voice recording is then “banked” and stored ready to create a synthetic voice for a communication aid if, and when, that person needs one. Using software developed by speech scientists, all the parameters of that unique voice can be automatically analysed and synthetically reproduced in a process called “voice cloning”.

During the voice cloning process the synthetically reproduced parameters of a patient’s voice are combined with those of healthy donor voices. Features of donor voices with the same age, sex and regional accent as the patient are pooled together to form an “average voice model”, which acts as a base on which to generate the synthetic voice.

The programme helped me realise how voice is such an important aspect of a person's individuality.

One participant of the Voicebank Research Project clinical pilot states:

“…I would far prefer to use it (their own personalised digital voice) than the annoyingly bland off the shelf version. The voice identifies the person and to a large extent its tone expresses both personality and character so to capture this is in a synthesised version is an important development for many of us who have speech issues.

To be able to communicate in a way in which sounds like my voice and therefore all that it portrays beyond the words themselves is a huge advance. Another important step towards maintaining personal dignity in the face of severe handicap which is an essential ingredient of compassionate care in my view. ”

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