One of the first, serious indicators of MND for me was the way in which my voice became slurred over the summer months of 2020. What started as slight difficulty with words (after a glass of wine), became a slightly drunken slur at all times of the day. It quickly got to the point where I would avoid answering the phone, and Zoom meetings became quite stressful events. Now, as well as being very slurred, my voice sounds strained and hoarse and it was increasingly difficult to speak and make myself understood.
Fortunately, even before I received my official diagnosis, my speech and language therapist urged me to ‘bank’ my voice. This involved recording 350 set, short phrases to form an online library of sounds using online software called Acapela. These sounds can now be assembled back into words using an iPad and iPhone app called Predictable. I type what I want to say and the app does the talking.
I can opt for a ‘Stephen Hawking’ or ‘Lost Voice Guy’ voice, but my preference is to use my old voice as it sounded in October 2020. But it’s quite sad to hear it, and to realise how much things have deteriorated.
As well as using the app ‘on the go’ for random speech, it’s possible to create pre-determined stock phrases under headings like Home, Food and Drink and Shopping. The trouble is, I doubt any of the stock phrases will ever be entirely right. The whole voice banking thing is marvellous, but I do worry about losing spontaneity in speech and the opportunity to make the odd quick, witty remark. It seems to me that all that will be gone when I have to type everything I want to say with failing fingers… and at that stage we’ll need to investigate eye gaze technology. A step too far right now, I think.
I’ve put together a set of instructions to help Predictable users to organise their phrases and phrase categories using their account on the Therapy Box website. Any changes made in this way will feed through automatically to the app on the iPad or iPhone.
The process of importing pre-recorded phrases to Predictable isn’t easy either, and I contributed to a step-by-step guide which my speech and language therapist is now giving to other clients and SLTs. A copy is linked below: