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20131205_MCA_8820_1920 (Photo credit: TED Conference)

 

When I was a little girl my very first friend who I recognized as “like me” was a young man named Jim. Jim has cerebral palsy to a much greater degree than I do. The only things he can move independently are his eyes and his tongue and the index finger on his right hand if I’m not mistaken. He has 24 hour care and speech using a computer program which gives him a synthesized voice. He and his family were members of my grandmothers church so my mother remembers the first time he got a communication device, the whole church had taken up a collection and then called a celebratory dinner with Jim as the guest of honor. Mom says that there wasn’t a dry eye in the building when he gave his thank you speech. I met Jim when I was four and he was in his late teens or early 20s and I finally moved that there were other people in the world similar to me. Jim has spent the majority of his life speaking through voice that is very obviously computerized. In my head the voice he uses to communicate has never fit him. In my head the mores that I always replace the computerized one with if I’m speaking to him is much like his father’s who has a beautiful baritone singing voice. It has bothered me for years that my friend has been stuck with this cookie-cutter voice that I feel doesn’t reflect the person I know one bit. Yesterday I saw a Ted talk about a project which is creating real world voices for people who use voice synthesizers. I don’t mind admitting that I cried just a little bit because there is now a chance for my friend to have his own voice and not have to rely on a cookie-cutter parrot. The organization is called Vocalid and the basic idea id this: First there is a person who wants a custom voice, this person is asked to provide a short recording of the sound they can make and that recording is blended with that of a “voice donor” to create a unique voice for the disabled person. I can’t be my friend’s voice  because I’m a girl and that would be strange, but I  have passed the information on to him and his family and I plan to donate my voice so that a girl may finally be able to speak with a voice uniquely hers in spite of having to type the words into a computer first.

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