Jackie Reeves, Oxfordshire’s new speech banking volunteer writes about voice banking and becoming a voice banking volunteer

May 14th, 2018

voice-bankLesley Ogden asked me earlier this year if I would like to become a voice banking volunteer for Oxfordshire. I knew vaguely what voice banking is due to working with the Oxfordshire Speech and Langauge Therapy service for many years. I was part of the AAC service which assessed people for communication aids, many with Motor Neurone Disease. I knew however that my knowledge was out of date.

When people need to use a communication aid because they can no longer communicate through their own speech and voice they are reliant on a device that uses synthesised, computer generated speech. People with MND often need to use a communication aid at some stage in their illness. When I last worked in 2005 the synthesised speech on devices was all the same and was of the same quality as that used by Professor Stephen Hawking. There was definitely room for  improvement. The MND Association has excellent online information about voice banking on their website www.mndassociation.org. Someone who is thinking of banking their own voice can also get information by phoning MND Connect on 0808 802 6262.

What is Voice Banking?

People will record a set of over a 1000 phrases in their own speech while it is still “normal” for a software company. The MND Association uses the American company Model Talker.

They will need a headset microphone and a computer. The MND Association can lend the microphone and laptop computer. When the person has satisfactorily completed their recording it will be converted into personal synthesised speech and it will be stored by the company until it is needed. I like to think of the recording hanging in a cloud over Vermont! When the person with MND needs their synthesised speech, they should be assessed by a Speech and Language Therapist to select the appropriate communication aid. It will also be decided how the person will operate the aid , with a finger, eye gaze or a switch.

It is a diffiult decision to make, to realise you are eventually going to lose your power of communication, and decide to bank your voice. The most important factor is if you want to do it, you must not wait, slurred and/or soft speech cannot be recorded sucessfully. Some people if they are computer literate will be able to bank their own voice without much help, but there will be a group of people who will need the help of a voice banking volunteer.

To become a volunteer I went on a 2 day training course in London and decided as a first step to bank my own voice. This was a very good idea as it made me aware of the difficulties people may have. It is best to record at the same time and in the same place every day, not to do too much and not get tired. It took me two weeks of recording every day. The recording process can be difficult, there is feedback and it kept telling me my voice was too clipped and to record again.

When the recording is finished you can listen to your own synthesised speech. My recording is not perfect but I can tell it is me and it is much better than the synthesised speech from a few years ago. I have turned my iPad into a communication aid with Predictable communication software and my ModelTalker voice. I use the keypad and can demonstrate to people what the end result for them may be.

I have helped one gentleman recently diagnosed with MND to bank his own voice. He is very computer literate and just needed encouragement and a couple of visits. I am hoping that I will soon be able to help other people in Oxfordshire make use of this technique. If you are interested just ask for advice.