If you were a little girl who couldn’t speak, would you want to sound like Stephen Hawking?

Hawking, the renowned physi­cist who has lost the ability to speak due to a neu­ro­log­ical dis­order called amy­otrophic lat­eral scle­rosis, com­mu­ni­cates by typing with cheek move­ments. The typed words are then voiced by a speech syn­the­sizer, cre­ating Hawking’s slow monotone that has become famous.

Devices sim­ilar to Hawking’s can help give voice to other people with speech impair­ments. Most modern devices sound more human-​​like than Hawking’s — think of Apple’s Siri or your GPS — but often the voice still doesn’t suit the person using it, says Cana­dian speech sci­en­tist Rupal Patel.

There’s a ten­dency that clin­i­cians will use an adult male voice, even for a young child.”

There are also such a lim­ited number of voices avail­able to most speech devices that sev­eral chil­dren in the same class may have the same voice.

Patel, an asso­ciate pro­fessor of speech lan­guage pathology and audi­ology at North­eastern Uni­ver­sity in Boston, is changing the lives of people who rely on devices to help them speak, by cre­ating per­son­al­ized voices for them.

Read the article at CBC News →