According to dictionary.com, speech is the faculty or power of speaking; oral communication; ability to express one’s thoughts and emotions by speech sounds and gesture; something that is spoken. Speaking comes naturally to all human beings. It’s a way of life and the mechanism of speech begins in infancy. Unlike writing, no one needs to be taught how to speak. As they say: birds gotta fly, fish gotta swim and humans gotta talk. It’s that simple.
What if you suddenly lose the power to speak? How would you communicate with others? The resiliency of the human spirit will find ways to get around this problem, but it can be exasperating at the outset.
A case in point is a friend of Michael McAnally, the developer of Touch Voice, the Medical Speaking App. One of his best friends suffered a pulmonary embolism and survived, unfortunately, was unable to speak afterwards. The inability to express their thoughts through the spoken word frustrated them. They tried communicating through the alphabets written on a laminated board, but it was slow going and made his friend weak.
It made Michael realize that this inability to communicate does not affect patients, but their loved ones and their careers as well. Then, he thought of Stephen Hawking and his computer voice. The Apple iPad just came out during that time and he thought of developing an app for it. The dilemma of his friend losing his voice spurred him to write an app that could talk for his friend.
With some help from a musician friend who had a digitizing software, Michael wrote the code for Touch Voice. At first, the app needed to have internet access for it to work which is not ideal. Another friend who is a software engineer helped him code it to embed a speech engine which eliminates the need for internet or wifi access.
From its humble beginning, Touch Voice is now in hospitals, health facilities, and nursing homes – places where a lot of speech impaired patients need to communicate with their caregivers on what they need, how they feel or just simply to talk.
The app uses speech synthesis or text-to-speech technology to give voice to patients and articulate their needs. However, the app can only be used by those who still have mobility of their hands and fingers, can read and understand the meaning of the words, and can still hear. Even with these limitations, this app is a big help for those who are cognitively intact but cannot communicate verbally.
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