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Research about asssitive technology - could you help?

KateFKateF Member Posts: 6 Listener
edited January 28 in News and opportunities
Hello, I'm a Speech and Language Therapist and I work for the University of Sheffield. I'm part of a team of people who've helped to design a new type of communication aid, which uses your voice to help you communicate. That means it's good for people who struggle to use other communication aids where you have to use a touch screen or keypad.

Some people have tried it for us and we know our communication aid works very well in controlled situations. It's faster than most communication aids, and we think it might be good to support other, slower, communication methods. We would like to know more about how it works 'in real life', who wants to use it, and what they want to use it for. We think that if we know this, it will be easier to get it to the people who need it. Also, we want to make sure we know what support people need to use it successfully.

We are applying for some funding to do this research project, We have a team which includes speech-language therapists and computer scientists, but we also need people who have experience of using assistive technology (any sort) to help us design the project - we want to make sure that it is relevant and that we are looking at what is most important.

I would like to tell you more about the project and ask you some specific questions. I can do this by email, video call, or whichever way you feel comfortable with and suits your style of communication. If we are successful in getting funding for the project, I would invite you to join our Patient and Public Participation panel, which would give the opportunity to contribute over a longer period. As well as helping us, this would give you a chance to learn about research, and you could put it on your CV.

If this sounds interesting to you, please get in touch with me by replying to this message or sending me an email on [email protected]

Many thanks



  • Tori_ScopeTori_Scope Posts: 4,959

    Scope community team

    Hi @KateF :) Welcome to the community. 

    Would you be able to send a quick email to [email protected] so that we can verify a few things? We do allow research to be posted on the community, but we just need to check a few things first. Thanks in advance! 
    Online Community Coordinator, she/her

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  • KateFKateF Member Posts: 6 Listener
    Hi Tori, I have already been in touch with Ross and Cher via that email address before posting. Please let me know if you need any more details.
    Many thanks.
  • Tori_ScopeTori_Scope Posts: 4,959

    Scope community team

    edited January 26
    Ah right- apologies @KateF! I'm having some technical issues at the moment, so I'm not able to view the community email address. That's fine :) 
    Online Community Coordinator, she/her

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  • newbornnewborn Member Posts: 713 Pioneering
    Is this re-inventing the wheel?  The standard package for a laptop includes speech-to-type.  The standard Alexa does what it is told on voice command.   I notice at times some well meaning people making an entirely different and inevitably inferior version of something declared to be "for The disabled"  ( that word 'The' is a givaway)
    By all means tailor a standard mass produced package with tweaks for this or that refinement.  Probably the mass manufacturer will then offer those tweaks you devised,  as an optional add-on.  Better.  Cheaper.  Quicker.  What's not to love?

    I say this after watching a few of the documentaries where clever tech people have done things for The disabled.  In some cases, there did not seem to be any alternative and the results were clearly excellent for the individuals. 

     But some were, I'm afraid, distressing. e.g. an extremely intelligent competent woman, I think still running her own business despite increased disablility,  and who could easily have given voice commands to a standard Alexa,  was assumed to be child like because her hair was grey and she used a wheelchair, and this was double proof, to the clever young inventors, that all she needed was something that looked like a toy. (!)  

    To the programme makers, it was obviously fine to take it for granted all old people are feeble in understanding, and so are all wheelchair users.

     They grabbed the fact she was  mildly interested in owls, and concentrated on making a machine inside a plastic owl, that would do about 5% as well as an Alexa,  but only if she mastered a complex series of codes.  The fact she didn't get much use out of it merely confirmed their certainty that the fault was hers (!)   

    The inventors concluded the programme by telling the audience that "It is  often  difficult for The  (That telltale word again) elderly to comprehend new technology"   This, about a woman whose flat was already stuffed with technology which she controlled perfectly well, and who had already,  wiithout any hesitation, adapted to  manage her business, spreadsheets, research, accounts, Zoom calls, etc etc etc..

    (Disclaimer; The exact details of all those programmes is not something I am willing to re-research, but the gist of what I recall is firm).
  • KateFKateF Member Posts: 6 Listener
    No problem, thanks!
  • KateFKateF Member Posts: 6 Listener
    Hi newborn, this device doesn't use the standard voice recognition technology. The speech recognition is designed to be used by people with unintelligible speech, for whom standard voice recognition technology doesn't work well for. It can be trained to recognise vocal outputs that are meaningful to the individual user but would not be intelligible to an unfamiliar listener. These can then be linked to text to speech outputs. So an example would be someone with severe dysarthria who can make the vocalisations 'oo' 'ee' and 'aa'. They could use these to navigate around a grid based communication aid, and select phrases for the communication to speak.
    I share your concerns about reinventing the wheel, thanks for prompting me to explain that in more detail. Basically this works much like a normal communication aid, but is a good option for people who find standard communication aids too slow. 
  • KateFKateF Member Posts: 6 Listener
    Also newborn, what we're trying to avoid is getting excited about the fact that we've made something, and it works, without understanding how it actually works for people in reality. That's why we'd like to do some more research, to see what happens when people use it in their lives.
  • Richard_ScopeRichard_Scope Posts: 2,829

    Scope community team

    edited January 28
    Hi @forgoodnesssake could you perhaps help @KateF get some response for this research or people willing to sit on the panel. 
    Specialist Information Officer - Cerebral Palsy

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  • forgoodnesssakeforgoodnesssake Member Posts: 367 Pioneering
    Yes if you have not done so KateF then you should post this on the Communication Matters Google group as it will, I think be seen by quite a lot of both SALTs/related professionals and those who use AAC. (you may have to sign up to this)
    I certainly know people who have very very dysarthric speech who use AAC but may liek the opportunity to use their own voice more effectively.

  • KateFKateF Member Posts: 6 Listener
    thank you @forgoodnesssake, I'll definitely do that.
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