Two new innovative apps, developed in conjunction with CATCH and designed to help people with speech difficulties find their voice, have been launched by Therapy Box.

Articulation Forest and VocaTempo aim to help people with speech impairments and communication difficulties make themselves heard and understood, to give them a voice. The apps are particularly aimed at children and young people.

Articulation Forest is a game based app that allows children who have difficulty speaking to play games which help them with their speech. It then gives them feedback on how they are doing and is the only app available that provides feedback in real-time. It also enables a speech therapist to track the child’s progress and adjust targets while children practise at home.

The app has specially designed speech recognition software for people with difficulty speaking. The speech recognition software was developed by CATCH and Barnsley Hospital NHS Trust’s Assistive Technology Team in conjunction with Therapy Box. The development was funded by the National Institute of Health Research i4i programme and the project was led by CATCH’s Dr Stuart Cunningham.

Dr Cunningham said: “The team on the Articulation Forest project worked really hard toturn our research into a product that people can use. It’s going to be
very exciting to see how people will use the app.”

VocaTempo is the world’s first voice input augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) app. It is designed for people with dysarthria (difficulty speaking caused by neurological problems) and allows them to use voice commands to speak phrases.

The app learns to recognise the user’s vocal patterns so it can be controlled vocally. Users will be able to navigate through the app using their speech, and will also be able to activate Text-To-Speech cells, which speak pre-programmed messages using synthetic speech.

A team led by Professor Mark Hawley, with Prof Phil Green, Dr Stuart Cunningham and Siddharth Sehgal from CATCH created the advanced speech recognition software behind VocaTempo which is specifically engineered to work with dysarthric voices. Barnsley Hospital’s Assistive Technology Team, led by Simon Judge, were involved in the conception of the app and speech recognition software and in testing the app with children and young people with dysarthria.

Kate Fryer was one of the researchers on the VocaTempo project. She said: “I remember clearly the look of joy on some of the participant’s faces, when they would say a word, and the app would clearly speak out a whole phrase that they had chosen. When I thought about using voice recognition in a communication aid, I had thought about it being faster and easier. What I hadn’t considered was that for these children, they constantly struggled to be understood when using their voice – but VocaTempo understood them, and this seemed to give them a feeling of empowerment.”

The VocaTemp app is a collaboration between Therapy Box, CATCH, Barnsley Hospital and received funding through SBRI healthcare.