Apple created its new voice feature for—and with—people with ALS

BY HARRY MCCRACKEN: Complete Post through this link…

Among the many challenges people living with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) face is its impact on their speech. By weakening muscles in the throat and mouth, the progressive disease makes speaking increasingly difficult and lessens the ability to talk clearly and at a typical pace. Most patients contend with these symptoms and ultimately lose the ability to speak at all.

When talking for oneself becomes an issue, speech synthesis is an essential communication tool, whether for chatting with family and friends or just ordering a coffee at a café. For years, people with ALS have been able to plan for this eventuality by creating a digitized version of their own voice, a process known as voice banking. But while voice banking is best done before ALS has affected someone’s speech too much, it’s been daunting, sometimes costly, and tempting to postpone.

Four years ago, when Philip Green banked his voice, he had to record 1,500 phrases for training purposes, an arduous task that took him weeks to complete. So, he understands why others might avoid confronting it.

“To be honest, you have a lot more things on your mind than, ‘Oh, I should invest time in preserving a version of my voice that I may need in two years or six months or four years,’” says Green, a member of the board of directors at Team Gleason, a nonprofit that serves those with ALS. “You’re really not thinking about that. But what we are trying to do is make people aware. Do it as soon as you find out [your diagnosis], because it’s essentially an insurance policy that you hope you won’t have to use.”

Starting soon, people will be able to easily create and use a digitized version of their own voice using an approachable piece of equipment they already own: an iPhone, iPad, or Mac. That’s thanks to Personal Voice, a new accessibility feature Apple plans to ship later this year. It needs only 15 minutes of spoken phrases for training—which users can break into multiple recording sessions if they choose—and does all processing locally. The voices it produces work in Apple’s own apps as well as third-party augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) apps from companies such as AssistiveWare.

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