Have you ever thought about how much your voice means to you?
Or about how your voice forms part of your identity?
How would you feel if you lost your voice?
These are questions I have had to consider recently and I was intrigued to stumble across a crowd-sourced project that is trying to build the biggest voice bank in the world, made up entirely of voice donations, to help people with speech impediments globally. I just had to find out more….
You see, in the past I’ve only really thought of my voice whilst cringing at a recording of it and feeling confused why no-one has ever told me that I sound like an overexcited child on helium.
Like most people, I have briefly lost my voice during times of illness and as frustrating as it was, my family and friends seemed to relish the peace! But it wasn’t until my Father had a severe brain haemorrhage last year and lost the ability to speak, that I began to understand what it would be like. Knowing he was totally lucid, with his language ability in tact, yet unable to physically talk was heartbreaking to watch. The loss, we were told wasn’t necessarily permanent and if he hadn’t sadly lost his battle 7 months later, he would have been a candidate for extensive speech therapy and if no success he would potentially have had to use a computer based voice like Stephen Hawking’s.
I like many others have always assumed Stephen Hawking was American due to the computer programme using an American-English voice. However with the release of ‘The Theory of Evolution’ documenting Hawking’s life, I discovered that he was in fact British. Technology wasn’t (and still isn’t in some aspects) advanced enough to provide a voice similar to his own and this means that millions of people relying on computerised speech will speak with the same voice as Hawking’s.
VocaliD was founded by Dr Rupal Patel and the patent-pending technology uses recordings from voice donors to customise a synthetic voice, blending it to match the characteristics of the recipients voice – helping to restore their unique identity with a unique voice that is more true to their own.
The Human Voicebank is a crowdsourced initiative that aims to collect the worlds largest collection of English language voice donations (and hopefully other languages in the future). Not only can you give someone else the gift of a voice, but you can also protect your own by ‘banking’ your recordings, so that if you ever lost your voice you could re-create a synthetic one.
To donate all you need is an internet connection, a quiet room in which to record, a computer or smartphone with built in microphone and Chrome browser (it worked for me in Safari on my iPhone too!). You are asked to donate 3-4 hours of speech, which can be broken down and recorded in 15-20 minute sessions. Just simply log on, follow the instructions and read the words/sentences generated on the screen.
Head on over to VocaliD and sign up to start your donation. I have just recorded my first 20 minutes and it was super easy! It will mean so much to so many people who have been affected by speech impediment, including me 🙂
p.s. At least one Sunday each month I donate my time and/or resources to helping someone, even if it just means making a cake to cheer them up! I will now call it #MySelflessSunday. Please follow my journey on Instagram and I would love for you to join in – simply tag me in the photo of your good deeds using @hapless_hopeless and use the hashtag #MySelflessSunday in the caption.
You can also find me and this project on Twitter where you can share your posts with me @FergMcLean and again using the hashtag #MySelflessSunday.
Together we can start a positive movement 🙂