Posts Tagged ‘aac’

Proloquo4Text is Here!!

Proloquo4text: is a new text to speech app for people who cannot speak or have difficulties making themselves understood.

Below is a review of the new app from Proloquo – P4T by expert user Kati Lea


I received the first build of P4T in Sept and initially had a few difficulties as the categories that went down the side were too narrow and did not seem to increase with font neither did the prediction on the keyboard. 

First build of P4T

First build of P4T


I gave them feedback over the issues that a person with fine motor difficulties would struggle with particularly and then a few weeks later was sent a second build of the Beta version. 


This was much better and easier for me to use.  I could make the categories bigger and the prediction in the keyboard, although it didn’t leave much space for typing on the iPad mini when the keyboard is up, especially if you are using very large font’s. The space does look bigger in screenshots that it comes across on the iPad mini.

I feel, to make the best of this app, particularly if you have some fine motor issues but want to access directly via touch, then the larger iPad would give you more room to play with on the screen. If you can see a regular sized font easily this issue will probably not affect you.

The app does have some great features for adult communicators and is aimed at Adults with good literacy skills who prefer a prediction based AAC device to one with symbols and having to hunt through ‘pages’ of topics to find the words/sentences you want. 


Each build brought improvements from the last. There is a start up guide to help the total novice set the app to their requirements, though it is easy for the more experienced user to find all settings under the gear icon on the top right of the screen.

page from the start up guide

page from the start up guide


pages and menu's are explained in detail in the user guide

pages and menu’s are explained in detail in the user guide

Here are some examples with larger font’s and coloured menu’s that I created, just to show how it can be personalised.

It was quick & easy to colour code, making longer pre-stored sentences easy to find

It was quick & easy to colour code, making longer pre-stored sentences easy to find


Type statuses for Facebook and Twitter

Type statuses for Facebook and Twitter



If you are reducing the predictions/quick chat to one column, I find sentence prediction and phrases the most helpful if you wish to reduce options. However you can choose for all of them to appear on that side and you just press the small icon on top right of that bar to scroll through between quickchat,  prediction etc. 


You can also make the prediction on the keyboard a larger font and bigger ‘buttons’, or you can remove it entirely and only have predictions on the side bars. 

keyboard with prediction removed

keyboard with prediction removed


 You can even have the keyboard prediction in a different colour if you want!  Another great feature I was keen to see incorporated was abbreviation-expansion or ‘shortcuts’. These are essential to the text based typist to speed up production of long explanations and as an alternative to having to look through categories.

Here are screenshots of me creating the shortcut to explain Typetalk (as in the screenshot further up)


I created a category called Shortcuts in 'Quick Talk' then selected 'add item'

I created a category called Shortcuts in ‘Quick Talk’ then selected ‘add item’


This is page where you create your pre-stored sentence and turn it into an abbreviation

This is page where you create your pre-stored sentence and turn it into an abbreviation


now you an choose to either go into quick talk to find the sentence or just type 'ETT'

now you an choose to either go into quick talk to find the sentence or just type ‘ETT’


 as soon as you type in your abbreviation the text comes up to save you alot of typing!

as soon as you type in your abbreviation the text comes up to save you alot of typing!


 Regarding access methods – the switch access is now built into iOS7 and you can use the app with either external switches or using your iPads camera as the switch with look left to stop scan,  right to continue for example. You can let the OS scan for you or do it manually so it only scans when you activate by turning your head.  You can also scan by touching screen.  You can add this as an extra feature and combine with head movements to create 3 switches.


an example of a switch set up using the inbuilt camera and screen.

an example of a switch set up using the inbuilt camera and screen.


 To reach this page go to .. General Settings > Accessibility > Physical & Motor > Switch Control > Switches and select your preferred input method. 


This is a useful feature with adults with progressive conditions who maybe able to use an iPad with hands to start but maybe wanting to start to teach themselves switch scanning,  so they can be proficient in it by the time it is needed full time.  The iPad mini (wi-fi only version) is £399 as a entry price,  significantly cheaper than many specialist AAC devices for those struggling to afford or get funding for them


I do have mine on an iPad mini (It’s all I could afford this year) and  there is not a lot of spare screen space when you need to make prediction,  fonts and side bars bigger in order to read them properly or just physically hit the right one.  For those with aiming difficulties/intention tremor etc I would suggest using P4T with the larger screened iPad.  It may even make it possible for some people to use in portrait mode.

P4T can be used in Portrait mode too for those that prefer.

P4T can be used in Portrait mode too for those that prefer.

Image of the Proloquo4Text logo, which features two apostrophes - one looks like a face taking, the other is leaving the mouth of the face like a speech bubble.

Click here to purchase the Proloquo4Text AAC app for iPad and iPhone

As a side note – Typetalk/Text Direct are also bringing out an app called ParallelText that allows you to use iDevices as minicoms to make phone calls.  Giving you a fully functional AAC device that can do the same as the more expensive devices regarding having switch access, ability to compose text message (PLUS use as a minicom for hearing impaired AAC users)  and a communication aid PLUS all the other stuff you can do on an iPad too!!

Overall it is an excellent app and released today on the app store at a special introductory price of £44.99 for the first few weeks, after which it will be £89.99.









Klatt’s Last Tapes: A History of Speech Synthesisers Video

Klatt’s Last Tapes: A History of Speech Synthesisers

Speech Synthesisers in Use

Stephen Hawking and his Speech Synthesiser

Speech synthesisers and technology involved in giving a voice to those who can’t utilise has an interesting and enthralling history. It’s an area of technology and science that has fascinated scientists and therapists from many fields but is rarely discussed in the mainstream. World renowned physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking has made the presence of this technology more widely known.

Klatt’s Last Tapes was a one off exclusive on BBC Radio 4 which looked into the work of Dennis Klatt, the American pioneer of text to speech machines. Klatt’s work is explored by Lucy Hawking, the daughter of Stephen, who during this video goes on  a journey back through the history of speech machines. It really shows the ingenuity and creativity of the inventors and the quirky history of the predecessors of the machines that help her father communicate.



In the Beginning

Speech synthesisers have been produced and developed for over 200 years. Beginning mechanically with Wolfgang von Kempelen’s speaking machine which he built in 1769. Lucy Hawking visit Saarland University to see and try out a working replica of this primitive

wooden box with a mouthpiece and a bellows that was an early speech machine

Replica of Von Kempelen Speaking Machine

machine and learns more about von Kempelen’s dedication to finding a mechanical solution for people who were unable to speech. Von Kempelen found the main problem with his machine and developments was the lack of tongue and this particular element of the speech system was beyond his abilities to recreate mechanically.

Mechanics to Electronics

Experts believe there was no smooth transition between mechanical and electrical speech synthesisers. The first known electrical system was The Voder developed in the 1930s and displayed for all to see at the 1937 World Fair in New York. It operated much like an organ and it was remarked that it would take people a year at least to get to grips with the controls required to master its use.

Problems in Speech Synthesis

Through speaking to experts in the field Lucy Hawking realises and explores some of the main problems that have been battled against since the first speech synthesisers were developed. Initially it was possible to create plausible male voices but creating a female voice proved and still does prove difficult. Simulating women’s’ voices is harder due to different characteristics and they sound much more artificial than male. Articulation for the female voice is different and this is something even the most advanced computer systems has struggled with. It’s clear, as Hawking remarks in the show that using a synthesised male voice would provide women with a huge loss of identity.

Similarly, adult speech synthesisers have proved problematic for children. Speaking with an adult synthesised voice makes socialisation harder for children whose peers may find it harder to relate to them with an adult voice. The long term aim is to create personalised speech synthesis machines which grow with their user.

Dennis Klatt – The Father of Computerised Speech Synthesis

Dennis Klatt was the man who made a difference to speech synthesis. He was the pioneer of text to speech machines from a technological perspective and created an interface which allowed for speech for non-expert users for the first time. Before Klatt’s work, non-verbal individuals would need specialist support to be able to speak at all.

Lucy Hawking discusses Klatt’s work with his daughter Dr Laura Fine during the show. Klatt invented DECTalk, the original system which could take text and turn it into speech. Klatt also produced a definitive history of speech devices which includes a collection of recordings from all the devices developed throughout the 20th century. It’s a hugely valuable resource for development as well as for prosperity.

Klatt was dedicated to the production of a system for speech synthesis that was natural and intelligible. As Dr Fine explains he combined engineering and speech production research with people’s perceptions to create the end product. Perception data and the way people interpret speech is key to how successful a speech synthesiser is for regular conversation and socialisation.

Klatt created a range of different voices, entertainingly labelled the DECTalk Gang, and they gave a choice to DECTalk users. Choices included Beautiful Betty, Kit the Kid and Perfect Paul. Stephen Hawking’s voice is very similar to Perfect Paul.

Eye Gaze Speech Synthesisers

The show tells us that over 1 million people in America are unable to speak for a range of reasons. Lucy Hawking then goes onto to talk to Michael Cubis who lose his voice after a stroke. He controls his speech synthesiser through gaze control which is increasingly where text to speech technology is heading.

Eye Gaze technology uses movement of the eyes to generate text and speaking to Mick Donegan, a specialist in the field Hawking further discusses how the technology works and how it’s developed. The technology itself has been around for about 30 years but the systems have developed a lot in the 21st century. Sophistication in new speech synthesisers mean they can be utilised by individuals who live with involuntary movement, perhaps muscle spasms or shakes. People living with conditions such as cerebral palsy and multiple sclerosis are now able to access gaze controlled text to speech machines as well as games and leisure pursuits.

Initially machines were developed without punctuation or even capital letters but Donegan tells Hawking that this was met with disappointment by Michael Cubis who was insistent that proper speech, with the proper markers, is key to his identity and expressing himself as a fully literate, intelligent person.

The Future

Mick Donegan continues to discuss the future of speech synthesisers and recent research is even looking into how they can provide speech to people living with Locked-In syndrome.

The ideal way of giving someone their speech back is through implants, which is obviously an area which needs more research but Donegan asserts that caps which can boost signals are the current best option.

Speech Synthesisers and Identity

Hawking looks a little at how a speech synthesiser gives or takes away someone’s identity by chatting to Irish director Simon Fitzmaurice. With motor neuron disease Fitzmaurice lost his voice but was provided with a new one through his speech synthesiser – a new American voice.

The American voice of the synthesiser has become synonymous with him for Fitzmaurice’s family with his children unnerved by changes to it through other computer systems and programmes. Despite this Fitzmaurice has been participating in research alongside CereProc, a leading synthetic speech company, to build him a new voice.

CereProc have used recordings of Fitzmaurice’s voice and even data from his father’s voice to produce a speech synthesiser which mimics how he used to sound. This is fascinating technology and the show suggests that if you live with a disease where you may lose your voice there is now scope to make recordings in advance to try and save their part of your identity in the long run.

We thought we’d end this piece with a bit of friendly advice from Michael Cubis. When asked how do you talk to someone with a speech machine he replied:

“I would ask people them not to ask long questions and be patient because it can take a long time to answer. Also please bear in mind that it can be very tiring for those using speech output devices”


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Klatt’s Last Tapes Radio Show Transcript:

00:01 Speaker 1: We’ve comedy in half an hour when Richie Webb and Nick Walker star as the Hobby Bobbies. Before that, here on BBC Radio 4, Lucy Hawking traces the development of speech synthesis in Klatt’s Last Tapes.

00:16 Speaker 2: You are listening to the voice of a machine.

00:20 Speaker 3: Mama, mama.

00:24 Speaker 4: A, B, C, D, E, F, G…

00:29 Speaker 5: Once upon a time, there lived a king and queen who had no children.

00:34 Speaker 6: Do I sound like a boy or a girl?

00:37 Speaker 7: How are you? I love you.

00:40 S2: I do not understands what the words mean when I read them.

00:45 Speaker 8: Ha-ha-ha.

00:47 Speaker 9: I can serve as an authority figure.

00:50 Speaker 10: What did you say before that?

00:53 Speaker 11: Can you understand me even though I am whispering?

00:56 Speaker 12: To be or not to be, that is the question.

01:01 Lucy Hawking: My name is Lucy Hawking and I have been regularly chatting to a user of speech technology, my father Stephen, for the past 28 years. I write adventure stories for primary aged children about astronomy, astrophysics and cosmology. When I go to schools, I always talk about my father’s use of speech technology and I tell the kids that even though my father may sound robotic, when I play them a clip of him talking, I ask them to remember that actually it’s a real man talking to them. And it’s a man who’s using a computer to give himself back the voice that his illness has taken away from him.

01:42 Speaker 14: Development of speech synthesizers. One, The Voder of Homer Dudley, 1939.

01:50 Speaker 15: Will you please make the Voder say for our Eastern listeners, “Good evening radio audience.”?

01:55 Speaker 16: Good evening radio audience.

01:59 LH: To find out where speech technology started, I went to Saarland University in Germany, where two researchers had built a model of the first ever voice machine. It was originally created in the 18th Century by inventor, scientist, and impresario Wolfgang Von Kempelen.

[background noises]

02:24 LH: Hello.

02:24 Speaker 17: Hello.

02:25 LH: Good morning.

02:26 S1: Please come in.

02:26 LH: Thank you so much.

02:27 S1: I’m very pleased to meet you.

02:28 S1: Hello.

[background conversation]

02:30 Jürgen Trouvain: My name is Jürgen Trouvain. I’m a lecturer and researcher here at the Department of Computational Linguistics and Phonetics at Saarland University and I’m also interested in the history of speech communication devices, like the one of von Kempelen, for example. Kempelen was both a good showman and a very good scientist, but he was really like, sort of a genius, a real engineer, because he was interested in building things which can function and can help also people.

03:03 Fabian Brackhane: My name is Fabian Brackhane.

03:04 LH: What do you think the relationship was between von Kempelen’s original inspiration and the organ?

03:11 FB: It’s a very curious thing, because there is a stop in the pipe organ called “vox humana.”


03:24 FB: When this stop was invented in the 17th century, it should be a representation of the human voice playing the organ.

03:39 LH: So, they wanted to take the vox humana from a musical note, something you’d find in compositions at the time, to actually be able to produce human speech.

03:53 FB: Exactly. Yes. But Kempelen knew very well that this stuff couldn’t be the solution to get a speech synthesis.

[background music]

04:07 S1: Three, PAT the Parametric Artificial Talker of Walter Lawrence, 1953.

04:14 S1: What did you say before that?

04:18 LH: And so, we’re looking at von Kempelen’s speech machine. [chuckle] The door of which has just fallen off. It looks like a small bird house. Yeah. So, we’re taking the lid off the box, which houses the speech machine. And so, Fabian is putting one hand through one hole with his elbow on the bellows, which represent the lungs and his other hand is coming underneath the rubber cone. Which, what does the rubber cone represent?

04:53 FB: The mouth.

04:54 LH: The mouth. So, it’s hand under the mouth piece.

04:59 S3: Mama Mama.

05:03 S1: Ooh, it’s creepy. Sorry.


05:05 S3: Papa Papa.

05:10 FB: So, it’s… These are the both best words he/she could say it.

05:17 S3: Mama.

05:19 FB: So, you have the nose to be opened.

05:23 S3: Papa.

05:25 LH: So, Fabian is moving his hand rapidly over the mouthpiece and using two fingers over the nostrils effectively, while pressing down with his elbow on the lungs. Fabian is actually mouthing the words “mama” and “papa” while the machine is saying them.


05:45 S1: Four, The “OVE” cascade formant synthesizer of Gunnar Fant, 1953.

05:51 S7: How are you? I love you.

05:59 Bernd Möbius: I might be able to find out whether Lucy is able to…

06:02 LH: Should we see… Should we see, perhaps like in…

06:03 FB: So, there’s your instructor.

06:05 LH: Right.

06:06 FB: If you want to say “em,” you have to close the mouth and the nostrils have to be opened.

06:12 LH: The nostrils are open, front [06:12] ____.

06:13 FB: And if you want to say “ah,” you have to move the hand backwards. So, just mah, mah, while I’m pressing them…

06:22 LH: While pressing…

06:23 S3: Mm… Mama… Mam…


06:23 LH: I did that with three syllables. [chuckle] I’ll try with two this time.

06:34 S3: Mama…

06:37 LH: Right and what about papa? How would I do papa?

06:39 FB: The same way but you have to close the nostrils. Well…

06:44 LH: Okay. So…

06:44 S3: Pa-pa-paaaaa.


06:50 LH: Let’s see if I can just do it with two syllables this time.

06:53 S3: Pa-paa…

06:56 LH: Can I get her to say anything else or will I be… Would I be able to make it say any other words?

07:03 FB: If you don’t cover the mouth, it’s an A.

07:07 S3: Ah…

07:09 S1: And the more you cover the mouth, the vowel quality changes.

07:13 S3: Ahh… A… B… Mm…


07:28 FB: He knew that the missing of the tongue was very important thing and in his book, he wrote to his readers, to invent this machine forward, but nobody could invent it with the tongue, with teeth, so that, it could speak more than this few, very few things.


07:57 LH: It seems to me that his aim was actually to give a voice to people who couldn’t speak. And so, he must have hoped for further development of his machine ’cause he can’t have imagined that, it would just be mama and papa or those short sentences. He must have had in mind, this idea that people would be able to speak freely, mechanically.

08:15 JT: And there was a plea in that book Fabian mentioned, please read out that means, researchers and the later generations, please, go on with the development of that machine. So, we’re still trying to do that here.


08:32 S1: 16, Output from the first computer-based phonemic-synthesis-by-rule program, created by John Kelly and Louis Gerstman, 1961.

08:44 S1: To be or not to be, that is the question.

08:49 LH: It would be really nice to get a sense of the progression from a mechanical to electrical to computer solutions to providing a voice for people who can’t speak.

09:01 BM: I’m not sure whether that was actually a smooth transition from mechanical systems like [09:09] ____ to the first electrical ones. I only know that, all of a sudden, that’s how it looks. My name is Bernd Möbius. I am the Professor of Phonetics and Phonology at Saarland University. In the 1930s, there was an electrical system around, the so-called Voder, did by Homer Dudley, that was demonstrated at the World Fair in New York, I believe in 1937.

09:35 S1: For example, Helen, will you have the Voder say, “She saw me”?

09:41 Speaker 21: She saw me.

09:42 S1: That sounded awfully flat, how about a little expression? Say the sentence in answer to these questions. “Who saw you?”

09:49 S2: She saw me.

09:51 S1: Whom did she see?

09:52 S2: She saw me.

09:55 S1: What did she, see you or hear you?

09:57 S2: She saw me.

09:59 BM: During the demonstration at the World Fair, there was a female operator of the system who played the device a little bit like a church organ.

10:09 S1: About how long did it take you to become an expert in operating the Voder?

10:12 Speaker 22: It took me about a year of constant practice. This is about the average time required in most cases.


10:23 S2: She saw me. Who saw me? She saw me. She saw me. Who saw me? She saw me.

10:37 JT: We have to go back to the or is the floor next to the top, the top floor.

10:42 LH: I’m now just getting into an elevator, which probably I can talk to. So, does it speak English?

10:47 JT: Hopefully, yes.

10:51 S2: Okay. Hello, elevator. It doesn’t say hello back.

10:58 JT: You must be patient with that. It’s a machine. Maybe with German.

11:01 S?: Hello [German]

11:01 Speaker 23: Hi there, where can I take you?

11:08 LH: The third floor. Third floor.

11:14 S2: Okay, I’m bringing you to the third floor. Bye, bye.

11:18 LH: Bye now.

11:19 S1: 19. Rules to control a low-dimensionality articulatory model, by Cecil Coker, 1968.

11:28 S2: [11:28] ____. You are listening to the voice of a machine.

11:39 Speaker 24: I’m Eva Lizotte [11:39] ____, and I’m a PhD student and working in articulatory synthesis. The actual situation right now, is that, it’s very hard to simulate women’s voices ’cause they have a slightly different characteristics and if you just tune up the F0, the fundamental frequency or the pitch of the voice, it starts sounding really artificial and what you actually have to do, you have, also to alter the articulation. So when “ah”, when I or when we speak an “ah,” it’s different from a male long vocal tract “ah.” So, you have… You can not easily interpolate the articulation.

12:19 LH: Because of course it’d be awful for women not only to be using a speech synthesizer, but then, to be coming out with a man’s voice.

12:25 S2: Yeah.


12:26 LH: I mean, that would constitute… That would be a real loss of identity.

12:29 S2: Yeah. Exactly.

12:31 Speaker 25: This is result of trying to imitate a female voice by increasing the pitch.


12:37 S1: 24, the first full text-to-speech system, done in Japan by Noriko Umeda et al., 1968.

12:47 S5: Once upon a time, there lived a king and queen who had no children.

12:55 S1: But I think it’s also important to think of children for example, growing up and of course at the beginning to speak with an adult’s voice, even the sex would be the same, would be awful I think…

13:08 LH: Definitely very important just for making friends. It’s gonna be very hard for a child speaking with an adult’s voice to actually communicate with kids of their own age.

13:17 S2: Yeah.

13:18 JT: But at the moment we don’t know very much about the speaking voice of children coming, adults, for example. What’s really happening during the maturation of the vocal folds.

13:29 LH: So, the aim is to create speech machines which can grow up with somebody.

13:32 JT: That would be really nice. Then you would have shown real knowledge about what’s going on in your voice during life span, at least, of a first say, 20 years or so.


13:47 S1: 21, sentence-level phonology incorporated in rules by Dennis Klatt, 1976.

13:55 Speaker 26: It was the night before Christmas, went all through the house, not a creature was staring. Not even a mouse.

14:04 LH: Can you see that people who don’t maybe know, who Dennis Klatt is, could you put him in context?

14:09 JT: Yeah, he’s definitely one of the pioneers of speech emphasis, in the technological sense, but also in providing an interface for non-experts who could basically type in text and get synthetic speech out of the system, which wasn’t possible before I think.

14:27 S2: Before Klatt, you would actually have to be a specialist in order to be able to input what you wanted to say.

14:33 JT: Exactly.

14:33 LH: Okay. Laura can you hear me?

14:36 S2: I can hear you. Can you hear me?

14:37 LH: Yes. I’ve got you. That was fantastic. This is Dr, Laura Fine, the daughter of Dennis Klatt. Dennis Klatt is really the father of the modern speech machine. He created DECtalk, the system which takes text, inputted by the user and turns it into speech. Dennis Klatt also produced the definitive history of speech devices which includes a collection of recordings of each device through out the 20th century.

15:01 S2: He really was interested in making a natural and intelligible system. So, the most important qualities of a speech synthesis system are really the naturalness and the intelligibility. And he was very much interested in making those of high quality. One of the unique contributions was that, he used not only his understanding from an engineering standpoint and a speech production standpoint, but he also asked for analysis with perception data. How do people interpret speech and what is it in the listener that helps them determine, is this a child, is this a female, is this a male? What cues are important? And that really helped him to make an intelligible system that incorporated different age speakers and different genders.


15:47 S6: Do I sound like a boy or a girl?

15:51 S2: My mother came across this drawing that my father made of the different speakers. In the center, we have Perfect Paul. This is a picture of my father.

16:01 Speaker 27: I am Perfect Paul, the standard male voice.

16:04 S2: And then, this is beautiful Betty which is the standard female voice. And that is a picture that he drew of my mother.

16:13 Speaker 28: I am beautiful Betty, the standard female voice. Some people think I sound a bit like a man.


16:22 S2: This is Kit the kid, who’s a 10-year old child. So, this is a picture of me.

16:27 Speaker 29: My name is Kit the kid and I am about 10-years old.

16:31 S2: With my nice short hair cut, as a child.

16:33 LH: Oh, is that you?

16:34 S2: I was a lab rat. As a child, I spent a lot of time at MIT. My father had a candy drawer. I spent hours with him at MIT, in his laboratory and he took snippets of my voice and that helped to develop the child’s voice.

16:51 LH: I love that they’re called the DECtalk gang.

16:54 S2: The DECtalk gang.

16:55 LH: That is a great… That is a great title.

16:57 S2: So, there was my father in later years and underneath the caption says, Huge Harry. Kind of older gentleman’s voice.

17:04 S9: I am Huge Harry, a very large person with a deep voice. I can serve as an authority figure.

17:12 LH: Laura, I have to tell you something, Perfect Paul, sounds just like my dad.

17:17 S2: I mean, I think that’s amazing.

17:18 LH: Is Perfect Paul based on your father’s voice?

17:21 S2: Yes.

17:22 LH: Which therefore means that, my father is actually speaking with your father’s voice.

17:27 S2: It’s amazing, he would be so, so thrilled.

17:30 LH: I think, one of the things that strikes me about your father is his humanity and that he was obviously an amazing scientist, who managed to do something that has had a very profound impact on people’s day-to-day lives. And but also that he had quite a sense of humour.

17:45 S2: He did.


17:47 LH: Is it true that he gave his synthesizer the ability to sing, “Happy birthday to you”?

17:53 S2: He did.

17:54 S2: Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday dear…

18:03 S2: One of the ironies is, as a 40-year old man, he began to be somewhat hoarse, because he had thyroid cancer. And, he had had a thyroidectomy, but his vocal chords were affected by the disease. And so, he spoke in later years with a raspy voice. And I think he understood all too well your father’s challenges in terms of communication.

18:29 LH: So, he had a real sense himself of what it would actually be like to find that you had no voice.

18:36 S2: Yes, my father unfortunately passed away at age 50, way too young. And he knew that he had a terminal illness really, when I was quite young. He knew that he would not be around perhaps to see me graduate from college. But he was always so optimistic. I think it’s been such an amazing experience for me to talk to you about how your father’s life has been transformed by my father’s research. And I had never really thought before that my father’s voice lives on.


19:11 S1: 33, The Klattalk system by Dennis Klatt of MIT which formed the basis for Digital Equiptment Corporation’s DECtalk system, 1983.

19:24 S2: According to the American Speech and Hearing Association, there are over one million people in the United States who are unable to speak for one reason or another.

19:37 Speaker 30: I will show you the way that you can write using my eyes.

19:41 Speaker 31: At first, when people meet me as someone who is unable to speak, they’d seem to assume that you have some form of mental deficiency.

19:49 S3: I will show you the way that you can write using my eyes.

19:52 LH: This is [19:53] ____ Michael Cubis. And Michael lost his voice from a stroke some years ago.

19:56 Speaker 32: Some people will talk to me as if I have a learning disability. I find this quite funny as some of them [20:02] ____ the most ridiculous way. Some of them catch on fairly fast and realize that I’m perfectly sane. Other’s continue to act this way though, which is funny and completely bizarre.


20:20 S3: People are quite anxious about how to approach someone with a disability. And that’s what Michael does, he puts people at their ease. So, it is easy to communicate with him.

20:30 LH: Mick Donegan’s speciality is an eye gaze technology, and that means, using the movements of the eye in order to generate text, which can then be turned into speech. Could you explain a bit more to us about gaze control, about the kind of technology that we have just had a conversation with Michael [20:49] ____?

20:50 S3: It’s a system, it’s based on a very powerful camera system combined with low level infra-red lights. The actual technology has been around probably two or three decades, but the significant change that’s happened this century, is that systems began to cope with significant involuntary movement. That means that the significant numbers of people with cerebral palsy, for example, who have involuntary movement, suddenly that group of people were able to use the system. People with MS who have involuntary movement.


21:23 S1: 11, The DAVO articulatory synthesizer developed by George Rosen at MIT, 1958.

21:31 S4: A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K…

21:36 S3: When I first tried Michael with eye gaze technology, we used just a lower case system and Michael was very unhappy about that. He was insistent that I put capital letters, full stops, commas, semicolons, because it’s really important for him to show everyone that he’s a fully literate guy who is able to speak independently and in the highest literacy level.

21:56 S4: When we know our A, B, C…

22:02 LH: Mick, I wonder if you could tell us a bit about how you see the future of this technology developing?

22:07 S3: I’ve just finished being an advisor for a European project on brain-computer interface and disability. And for me, that’s a technology that excites me because for those people who are completely locked in, who can’t even move their eyes, then there is no other way to go, other than to use a brain computer interface. At the moment, you know it’s kind of inconvenient, because for the best signal… Well, in fact, for the best signal, you need an implant. But the second best signal [chuckle] is to actually wear a cap and for that [22:31] ____ gel on it, etcetera. But there are various dry caps being developed that have a reasonable signal as I understand it.

22:39 LH: I’m always asked how to talk to my father, and it would be great to know what advice you would give to people who are not familiar with speech machines, but who would like to have a conversation with you?

22:49 Speaker 33: I would ask them not to ask long questions and be patient because it can take a long time to answer. Also, please bear in mind that it can be very tiring for those using speech output devices.


23:06 Speaker 34: The question of whether I would change my voice given the opportunity is a difficult one. And I suddenly have an opportunity.

23:14 LH: This is acclaimed film-maker, Simon Fitzmaurice, who has lost his voice through MND.

23:20 S3: This voice, my voice is a generic one that came with the computer, turning an Irish man into an American overnight. But it has become my voice.

23:33 S?: Yeah. This is actually something that we have in mind as a real application for people who know that there’s a chance that they will lose their voice to record themselves. Such that the experts will be able to build a speech synthesiser that has that person’s voice.

23:51 S3: There are two key issues, and the question of changing my voice. What I think about my voice, and what those closest to me think and feel about my voice? And I can tell you what my children feel straightaway. They find the idea of me changing my voice completely abhorrent. Just recently, I was testing out another computer, when I glimpsed out of the corner of my eye, my two little boys standing outside the door, their heads close together whispering… They are four and six years of age. They are whispering and looking in my direction. It turns out they are discussing the strange voice coming out of this different computer. Later, back on my own computer, it’s bedtime and right my six-year old comes to give me a kiss, I type up “Goodnight” on my screen. “No. Say it.” I say it, “Goodnight.” He turns to his brother at the door, “You see, I told you. It’s the same.” Someone’s voice is part of their identity, integral to their perceived makeup, it’s funny though, I feel less protective of my computer voice than others, probably because my voice inside my head is what is familiar to me, my thoughts, not the voice that expresses them.

25:20 S3: Recently, I came across a video on YouTube, we have a doctor in Sweden with motor and neuron disease and there it was, my voice out of someone else’s computer, identical. It was a little unnerving. So, I decided to see if I could get some semblance of my old spoken voice back, uniquely mine. I’ve been working with a company in Edinburgh, CereProc, the world leaders in synthetic speech who have built a synthetic voice out of old recordings of my spoken voice. I was lucky enough to have a recording of me reading some of my poetry and other recordings. However, because of the lack of data in comparison to someone who would deliberately bank their voice, my synthetic voice is limited by the amount of original material. As a solution, CereProc are now in the process of using my father’s voice as a similar source from which to fill in the missing DNA and to build a harmonias rounded voice.

26:23 Speaker 35: Harmonious rounded voice. I await the results.

26:27 S3: I await the results.

26:27 S3: So, the question remain…

26:29 S3: The question remains…

26:30 S3: Will I change my voice?

26:31 S3: Will I change my voice. And more importantly…

26:34 S3: Will my children allow it?

26:36 S3: Will my children allow it?


26:40 S1: 30, The MIT MITalk system by Jonathan Allen, Sheri Hunnicut, and Dennis Klatt, 1979.

26:49 Speaker 36: Speech is so familiar, a feature of daily life that we rarely pause to define it.

26:56 S1: End of the demonstration. These recordings were made by Dennis Klatt, on November 22nd 1986.

27:04 LH: Amazingly, we’ve progressed from Von Kempelen’s 18th century machine which had a limited vocabulary to being able to recreate the exact voice that was lost and give it expression, meaning and modulation in a way that mimics the naturally produced voice. Soon, speech technology users will be able to make their voices smile.

27:26 S1: Klatt’s Last Tape was presented by Lucy Hawking.

27:29 S6: Do I sound like a boy or a girl.

27:31 S?: The recordings were made available by the Acoustical Society of America.

27:35 S4: A, B, C, D, E, F…

27:37 S?: The sound design was by Nick Romero.

27:40 S7: How are you? I love you.

27:43 S?: It was produced by Julian Mayers.

27:45 S8: Ha-ha-ha.

27:46 S?: It was a Sweet Talk production for BBC Radio 4.

27:51 S2: Thank you for listening and good luck on all your cosmic journeys.

28:01 S1: I’m a bit concerned about that last bit, but while I’ve still got a job, I’ll introduce Peter White to tell us about You and Yours in half an hour. Peter.

28:07 Speaker 37: Yeah. We’re pretty concerned up here too. It’s claimed over 200,000 people who lost money when the life assurance company, Equitable Life, collapsed 10 years ago, could end up with no compensation at all. The Public Accounts Committee has blamed the Treasury for not getting a grip on the scheme. We’ll be looking at what can be done before the current deadline runs out, next spring. Wales, has cut its use of carrier bags by a massive three-quarters by imposing a charge. England still says, “It’s not ready… ”


Photo Credit: Attribution Some rights reserved by lwpkommunikacio

Joanna Grace’s Sensory Story Project

Sensory Communication – Sensory Stories

Hello everyone, my name is Joanna Grace and I write sensory stories for children with profound and multiple learning disabilities. I’m currently running a project on Kickstarter to create a set of these stories that families could use – please check it out, we only have a few days left!

Sensory stories have many things to offer children, one of which is the opportunity to develop communication. I’ll explain, but first I should tell you what a sensory story is!

What Are Sensory Stories?

Image representing the 5 senses - smell, sound, touch, taste and sight

Joanna’s Sensory Stories engage children’s 5 senses.

Sensory stories are constructed out of a combination of sensory experiences and text.

I aim to write stories in less than ten sentences. You might think you can’t get much of a story into so little text, but think of how much a poet can convey in a haiku, and think of the adage a ‘A picture speaks a thousand words’ and you’ve a start on imagining what could be in a sensory story.

I seek out rich sensory experiences to put into my stories, these needn’t be expensive things, it’s just a matter of viewing the world creatively and spotting things that would make a good experience. This can get you a few funny looks as you sniff things in shops, or feel them, but it’s a lot of fun. I aim to put at least one experience from each of the five famous senses into a story (did you have seven senses?)

Why sensory stimulation?

Your brain needs sensory input in order to develop and lay down neural pathways. An able bodied child can access a wide range of sensory stimuli for themselves, a child with physical disabilities will need help to access a range of stimuli. Sensory stories are a fun way of providing this support.

Communication Support for Children with Additional Needs

Sensory stories can support communication in children with profound and multiple learning disabilities in a number of ways:

Encouraging engagement

Researchers have found that some of the passivity they observe in individuals with profound and multiple learning disabilities is not down to the disability itself but to a learned helplessness that

Image of Joanna twisting a blue household duster to simulate the sound of the wind blowing through grass

Joanna uses a number of surprising yet familiar objects to illustrate her stories via the senses.

leaves the individual disengaged with the world. When you think about it, it is easy to see how, if you couldn’t easily access the world around you, you might begin to see it as not relevant to you and turn inwards seeking stimulation from within. In some cases this can also include self harm as a means of gaining stimulation. By introducing sensory experiences to individuals with profound and multiple learning disabilities you can encourage them to become interested in objects and people. This is a great first step towards communication.

Communication skills

Story telling is a wonderful form of communication that our ancestors enjoyed and that future generations will enjoy. It’s a way we bond ourselves together and form our identities. By sharing a story in a sensory way you can include someone who accesses the world in a purely sensory way in the experience of story telling. Aspects of the process of telling the story also support individuals in learning skills involved in communication, for example the turn taking nature of sharing the story: that I say the words, and then you experience the stimuli, echoes the turn taking nature of conversation: it’s your turn to speak, my turn to listen, then my turn to speak, your time to listen.

Expressing preferences

Image of Joanna in a living room, placing her hand upon a piece of textured foam

Joanna explains that even the most simple of objects can provide important sensory experiences.

People who care for individuals with profound and multiple learning disabilities try hard to personalise that care in a way that the individual would choose for themselves were they able to express themselves. Choices are made on our best discernment of what they individual with profound and multiple learning disabilities would want. Through sharing a sensory story with someone and noting their reactions carefully over time you can learning things like: they prefer the smell of lemons to the smell of roses, they enjoy the bang of a drum more than the ringing of a bell. These small insights can be used to personalise their care in a way that will be meaningful to them, for example by purchasing citrus shower gel rather than a floral one, or by using a drum as an alarm clock rather than a buzzer. Though small these things are immensely valuable to a person’s quality of life.

Supporting Joanna’s Sensory Story Project

I want sensory stories to be available for families to share at home, that’s my motivation for the project. The project ends at 5:22am EDT on May 21st, please have a look before then. In exchange for backing the project you receive a reward of your choosing; there are many things on offer including sensory stories themselves. Come and join us.

To read more about Joanna’s Sensory Story Project and for further information on how to get involved in her Kickstarter project, click here to visit the Sensory Play Tray blog.

Sensory Stories are vital for reaching out to children with additional needs, especially those with communication issues who find it hard to express their understanding of the world around them through speech. Technology has progressed in leaps and bounds over the past decade, and now provides children with communication issues a new and immediate way to express their needs and wants through touch screen interaction, rather than relying on speech.

After you’ve checked out Joanna’s Kickstarter project, why not have a look through our informative posts that cover some fantastic apps to aid communication and our compendium of iPad apps that use augmentative and alternative communication to aid self-expression?

Communication Aids for the Elderly

Communication Aids for Older People

As we age many of us succumb to conditions and the natural effects of ageing which means communication and the use of other faculties becomes difficult. From macular degeneration to dementia, many conditions can affect communication and finding communication aids and devices for the elderly is a sensible move when looking to ensure quality of life is maintained. Obviously depending on the particular issues faced by the individual elderly person in question the requirements from a communication device will differ. The communication devices that we look are particularly valuable to the older people and can make a huge different to daily life.

Due to conditions such as dementia causing a decline in cognitive abilities, modern technologies are usually avoided when considering communication aids for the elderly. There is nothing to say that some people may be capable of communicating via an electronic AAC device in most instances introducing this new technology would just provide more confusion, hence the devices mentioned below being quite simplistic in comparison to many on the market.


Menu Board Communication Device

A simple, communicative menuboard

Simple and straightforward, Menuboard allows an elderly person who may have become non-verbal or has non-verbal periods to put across what they want to eat. Obviously eating is a basic human right and choosing your own meals is something integral to remaining independent. Alternatively, this board can be used in a care home environment to signify to groups of elderly people what’s arranged for meal times.


Aquapaint has been developed specifically for those living with dementia and is designed to promote conversation and communication through art therapy. Not only do they promote communication, water-based aqua paints are able to provide endless stimulation and the finished product can instil a sense of pride in individuals who are struggling to deal with the rapid onset of the disease.

We’d also suggest users trying out Aquapaints could consider a Trabasack lap tray as the perfect painting surface, especially when topped with a Trabasack non-slip mat, keeping the surface of the lap tray perfectly clean thanks to the non-slip mat’s protective covering. The Trabasack sits comfortably on your lap without exerting pressure and provides the perfect portable table.

This video shows Aquapaint in action:

Talking Mats

Talking Mats Communication Device

Talking Mats Low-Tech Communication Aid

Talking Mats are a further low-tech communication device, simply comprising pictures, words and the requirement of the individual to point out or nod towards their specific request or requirement. They can help with the expression of feelings as well as giving directions and are extremely simple, providing an anxiety-free communication method without the need to worry about modern technology.

These are just thee communication devices which could benefit the older people. There are many more on the market which may suit individuals and of course, each person has their own personal requirements, strengths and weaknesses  so may suit a different type of device altogether.

AAC Image-based iPad Apps – Part 5

Following on from part 4 in our series of blog posts covering the extensive and ever-growing range of AAC apps available for iPad, we have a collection of symbol-based applications that are designed to aid your child with their communication, without relying on verbal prompts.

Each of the apps chosen for our AAC Apps blog compendium were individually assessed and compiled by Jane Farral – a speech pathologist and special educator with over 20 years of practical knowledge in the field of disability and assistive technology. Jane is highly experienced in the teaching of both adults and children with varying abilities, and holds a Masters in Special Education, where she concentrated on literacy acquisition in children and adults without speech.

Image icon for the Gabby Tabs iPad appGabby Tabs was developed by the parents of a child whom is non-verbal autistic, to provide an app with an in-depth understanding of the methods required to allow a parent to communicate with their child with AAC needs. The emphasis of this iPad app is to provide carers with an immediately easy-to-use, “ready-to-go” interface, filled with pre-installed commonly used symbols and audio. The simple and brightly-coloured interface of this app will immediately appeal to younger children, and hopefully encourage them to communicate their wants and needs with ease.


Image icon for the GoTalk Now iPad appThe GoTalk Now app has been created by an educational company with over 25 years experience of creating tools specifically for AAC. The app allows you to create templates or “books” of information directly related to your child’s lifestyle and needs, using voice recording, text-to-speech, video and either Imagine Symbols or your own, user-uploaded images. Your completed books can also be shared online or stored online for use no matter what your location, as long as an internet connection is available.


Image icon for the Grace iPad AppThe Grace – Picture Exchange app comes is a highly commended AAC app that won both the 2010 Irish Web Award and the United Nations World Summit Mobile Award. The app focuses on simple a picture exchange system to allow children and adults with autism to communicate with ease. The user can select images to create sentences, which are then used to encourage the child to attempt their own vocalisation. This intuitive app comes with a basic collection of images with the function for uploading your own, and also supports the iPad’s 3-axis “gyroscope” to allow even further interactivity.


Image icon for the I Click I Talk iPad app.The I Click I Talk iPad app features some unique technical add-ons that are generally unavailable on other AAC apps, most specifically the ability to monitor and analyse your child’s usage data and statistics. It can help the carer to monitor the frequency each image has been activated, or whether a child prefers photograph symbols over cartoon-style images. This is an excellent tool for helping to create a truly individual AAC aid for your child, allowing you to cater to their specific visual tastes and interests.


Image icon for the IAssist Communicator iPad appThe iAssist Communicator app is aimed at children on the autistic spectrum whom are more cognitively challenged – therefore the app moves away from the use of abstract, cartoon-like symbols, and relies purely on photo-realistic images for communication. As with many of the AAC apps we have featured so far, iAssist was created by a parent, therefore usability and the ability to customise categories has been taken well into account. This app comes pre-installed with 240 photos and voice-recordings, and also with every purchase made of this dynamic app, 10% of the cost will be donated to non-profit autism organisations.


Image of the packaging for the Trabasack Media Mount, showing the mount holding an iPad

The Trabasack Media Mount is a “truly inclusive” invention, allowing users to utilise iPads with ease.

We hope that these intuitive AAC apps provide both yourself and your child with a fun and interesting communication experience, and to provide your child with an even more carefree learning experience, why not consider the new Trabasack Media Mount? The Trabasack Media Mount is a flexible, multi purpose mounting device, useful for supporting iPads and other tablet computers at just the right angle, leaving your child’s hands free for touch screen interaction.

The Trabasack Media Mount is made of soft hook and loop receptive material with a velcro strip along one side. This means that you can twist it to any shape and it will stick to itself, and can be secured to the Trabasack Curve Connect lap tray with ease.

AAC Apps for Self Expression – Part 4

In our recent posts covering some of the best AAC apps currently on offer for both iPad and iPhone, we have featured contemporary and easy-to-use AAC aids that we hope will provide both you and your child with a modern and fun way to communicate via touch screen technology.

In part 4 of our AAC iPad app guide we have yet more innovative titles as provided by Jane Farrala speech pathologist and special educator with over 20 years of practical knowledge in the field of disability and assistive technology. Jane is highly experienced in the teaching of both adults and children with varying abilities, and holds a Masters in Special Education, where she concentrated on literacy acquisition in children and adults without speech.


Image icon for the Expressionist AppThe Expressionist iPhone app comes highly acclaimed by schools and therapists world-wide, for providing an intuitive and easy-to-use aid in helping children learn about self-expression and emotions. Each scene includes a cartoon character of a little boy, who’s easy to understand facial expressions and gestures inspire children to imitate and then utilise for expressing their own wants and needs. This straight-forward app includes a wealth of over 120 commonly used expressions, which are organised in to several different categories, including; greetings, feelings, senses, activities, questions and more.


Image icon for the Expressive appExpressive is a Smarty Symbol based app for both iPad and iPhone that helps those with communication disorders (such as autism and apraxia) express their wants and needs via a powerful yet easy to grasp interface. This app has been specifically designed for ease of use, and little to no previous programming experience is necessary to get started with the app. The app includes over 600 pre-installed symbols and allows you to upload your own personal images and record audio, to provide a truly bespoke AAC aid, to fit your child’s personal needs.


Image icon for the Flashables appFlashables is a flash card style app that utilises the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) to help children to communicate via images rather than words. The symbols are designed so that the child chooses their desired object (food, toys or activity for example) and it is then up to the parent or caregiver to instantly provide the child with the expressed object, helping to reinforce the understanding of cause and effect for children whom struggle to communicate via verbal prompts.




Image icon for Gabby appThe Gabby iPad app is a fun and informal app that allows children and adults with learning difficulties to express themselves easily via images and audio. It includes an abundance of features of tailoring the app experience to fit your child’s specific needs, and also includes an admin setting to make sure little hands can’t modify or change important settings.



Image of a Trabasack Media Mount holding an iPad upright

The Trabasack Media Mount is an intuitive and easy-to-use mounting device, perfect for use with iPads and other tablet computers

Thanks to leaps in technology, providing children with smart and intuitive AAC aids is easier than ever before, and Trabasack understand that usability is all-important in assuring your child has a relaxed and fun learning experience. That’s why Trabasack have created the new Media Mount – a mounting device that can be used with electronic equipment such as iPads, tablets and slates, to ensure they remain steady and upright whilst in use. The soft hook and loop receptive material, along with a Velcro strip attached to one side, means that it fits perfectly onto the Trabasack Connect tray surface and can also be manipulated easily into many different shapes to achieve the right angle and hold for the object you’re trying to support.

Five Great Communication Apps for your iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch

Five Great Communication Apps for your iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch

Your Trabasack is a great lap tray surface for your iPad

Apple’s position as one of the most popular, important and powerful computing and telecommunications companies cannot be disputed. Their range of devices from the original iPod to the more recent iPad and iPhone series are fantastically equipped to handle a huge range of apps and many of these can be used to significantly improve day to day life.

Many people thought Apple had designed their apps purely for entertainment and fun but there are many more uses for many of their great apps, most significantly for us, communication. At Trabasack for Communication Aids we are always looking for the latest and the best technology available to aid communication and make it more accessible. Here we’ve compiled five of the best communication apps currently available through the Apple App Store!

1 – Yes/No – a very simple communication app which is fantastic for simply answering questions. Yes/No allows the user to voice their preference to most questions with a yes or no answer. This app is fantastic for those with learning difficulties who may find open questions difficult and therefore are more confident and comfortable with simple answers. Yes-No - Smarty Ears

2 – iCommunicate. – Grembe Inc. – a communication app which allows for simple expression of feelings through symbols and sounds. You can customise it with specific photos of your environment, for example you could put together a storyboard or social story photos of the individual with the disability doing their usual daily tasks. Like an interactive PECs system. iCommunicate. - Grembe Inc.

3 – TouchChat AAC with WordPower – Silver Kite – an app designed for those who have difficulty using their own voice. There are a range of set messages and sentences stored within TouchChat but you can also add your own if the non-verbal individual has particular favourite phrases or sentences they’re used to and also you can add their name to TouchChat’s vocabulary. TouchChat AAC with WordPower - Silver Kite

4 – Assistive Chat – assistive apps – much like TouchChat, Assistive Chat supports those who have difficulty using their own speech. It’s a much more affordable option and has a range of customisable settings including the voice it speaks in, the size of the font on the screen and also word prediction so keystrokes can be kept to a minimum. Assistive Chat - assistive apps

5 – Grace – Picture Exchange for Non-Verbal People – an award winning app designed for non-verbal individuals. Developed for those on the autistic spectrum, Grace is designed to allow users to choose pictures to express their needs independently and in time, where possible, vocalise their needs alongside using the picture.Grace - Picture Exchange for Non-Verbal People - Steven Troughton-Smith

These are just five of the great communications apps on the market and we believe each one of them can be really useful for furthering independence and general life experiences!


Your iPad is perfectly safe inside your Trabasack’s bag compartment

If you’re lucky enough to own one of these great Apple devices, don’t forget how useful your Trabasack can be. The Trabasack Mini in particular is designed to perfectly fit an iPad 2 and it’s a brilliant storage space for any Apple device. Equally, the Trabasack tray surface gives you the option of somewhere safe and secure to rest your Apple device when not in use!

Trabasack is available from these Communication Aid companies (to add your company to the list, please email duncan{at}