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Tools You Can Use series: Talkitt, A Life Changer for Individuals Living with Speech Disabilities

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Late September, I was contacted about a new product called Talkitt, created by VoiceItt, a company that aims to develop innovative speech technology that will improve the quality of life of children and adults living with motor, speech, and language disorders.  VoiceItt seeks to allow these individuals to better communicate with loved ones and others by “translating” the unintelligible pronunciation into understanding speech, all while using their own voices.

The social media manager at VoiceItt wanted to know if I would be interested in spotlighting VoiceItt’s crowdfunding campaign for Talkitt, which they seek to release during the first quarter of 2015.  When I reviewed the information that was provided to me, I immediately knew that this was a product I had to share with my RYV! readers because technological advances that improve the lives of those with disabilities has to be supported.

Understanding Speech & Language Disabilities:  

What Are Speech Disorders?

According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), a speech disorder is when a person has difficulty or is unable to produce speech sounds correctly or fluently, or may have problems with her or his voice.  Some examples of speech disorders are stuttering, articulating one’s words (articulation disorders), and pronouncing sounds.

What Are Language Disorders?  

There are two types of language disorders:

  1. Receptive language – When a person has difficulty understanding others.
  2. Expressive language – When a person has difficulty sharing their thoughts and feelings completely with others.

A common cause of language disorder are strokes, which can result in aphasia (due to the level of brain damage experienced during a stroke)

Prevalence:

Approximately 1.5% of the world’s population live with speech and language disabilities.  These disabilities can result from a number of medical conditions including, but not limited to:  Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS/Lou Gehrig’s), Cerebral Palsy, Stroke, Brain Injury, Autism, Parkinson’s Disease, and other medical disorders, as noted by VoiceItt.  These disabilities can also exist due to unknown causes.  Both children and adults can have speech and language disorders.

Of the 241.7 million American adults aged 15 years old and older in 2010, almost 15 million (14.9 million) or 6.2 percent of this population experienced some level of speech and language difficulty; these numbers also includes hearing and seeing complications, as reported in the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2010 Household Economic Studies.

Statistics By Disorders:

Voice:

Approximately 7.5 million Americans have trouble using their voices.

Speech/Sound:

Between 8 to 9 percent of young children have a speech/sound disorder in America.  By the time a child reaches first grade, roughly 5 percent of children have a noticeable speech disorder.  For the majority of those with this kind of disorder, the cause is unknown, as noted by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD)..

Language:

6 to 8 million Americans have some form of language impairment.

As we can see from the statistics provided, a small, yet significant number of Americans, and those worldwide, are living with speech and language disabilities.

What Talkitt Aims to Achieve:  

Talkitt strives to become revolutionary in the lives of those with speech and language disabilities.  Read the following excerpt from VoiceItt’s press release about this life-changing product:

“This isn’t standard speech recognition.  We are using pattern recognition which is personalized for the speaker.  For example, a person with Cerebral Palsy might say ‘sho-ko-la’ when he really means to say ‘chocolate.  The app will recognize that based on the user’s own personalized, pre-recorded dictionary.” says Danny Weissberg, the Co-Founder and CEO of Voiceitt.

Existing products for people with speech impairments rely on boards or pictures, or use eye tracking to help them select words they wish to say,  “To my surprise no one has a solution like ours, which is much more simple and intuitive to use, mobile and encourages the person to speak,” Weissberg notes.

Why Talkitt’s Existence Matters to Our Community:

The three features that caught my attention about Talkitt was the simplicity of the app; the app’s technological versatility on any mobile device; and zero language barriers.

Talkitt is definitely NOT your standard speech recognition application with its calibration and recognition features.  The calibration stage of the app focuses on learning the Talkitt user’s speech patterns, and creating a personal dictionary of those sounds.  The recognition stage uses the personalized dictionary established through calibration to translate the unintelligible pronunciation and sounds into understandable speech.

The user-friendliness and personalized nature of this technology are what astounded me, especially since no one else has developed such a specialized instrument for individuals with speech and language disabilities.  The fact that VoiceItt is tapping into such “uncharted” technological territory allows it to stand out from the rest.

Talkitt - Voiceitt KidsBeing a self-proclaimed semi “techie,” the mobile app versatility of Talkitt will open a plethora of personal and professional opportunities for users who utilize tablets and smartphones in their day-to-day living.  As with many other tools I have shared in this series, it is imperative that innovators use technology to push open the door of inclusion for people with disabilities.  Technology continues to positively influence our lives, and allow those who were once silenced to be heard loud and clear.  Talkitt is indeed a product that not only empowers, but enriches one’s quality of life and ability to effectively and confidently interact better in social settings, whether the user is with family, friends, in school, or at outings.  I can only imagine the level of freedom and independence future Talkitt users will have with this product.

Finally, the fact that non-English speaking and native tongue users can make use of this application is groundbreaking.  It is hard to configure technology that is universally accessible with the millions of languages that exist in our world.  The thought of those with speech and language disabilities living in South America, Africa, Asia, and other parts of the world could gain access to this app excites me because our international disabled brothers and sisters need to have their voices and ideas heard with ease.  With Talkitt, language is not a barrier, and I think that this features alone gives it a competitive edge over current speech recognition technologies.

Promotional Videos of Children and Adults Testing Talkitt’s Capabilities:

To better understand Talkitt, I wanted to share a few of VoiceItt’s promotional videos that paints a vivid and emotional image as of how powerful Talkitt would be in the lives of those who utilize it.

Talkitt’s Summary Video:

 

Different examples of usage:

 

Jack (ALS) Pilot:

 

How You Can Assist the Talkitt Crowdfunding Campaign:

Talkitt - Voiceitt I Love YouAt the time of this article, Talkitt has raised close to $23,000 of the $40,000 it needs from its Indiegogo campaign.  There are only three days left to assist VoiceItt to meet its goal, and to be able to have the funding needed to launch Talkitt early next year.  Like so many projects, especially ones that has such a wide technological reach, it takes money to bring this idea to life.

If any of you are able to contribute to VoiceItt’s campaign, I strongly urge you to do so.  Even if you do not have the financial means to contribute, sharing this article and discussing how game-changing Talkitt is over the next few days are important actions to take.  We have to fully support products and services that aim to include, empower, and enhance the lives of people with disabilities because our lives MATTER and are VALUABLE.

Final Thoughts:

It is an incredible and humbling honor to have been approached by those at VoiceItt to share their new product on the “Tools You Can Use” series.  I offered VoiceItt the opportunity to advertise on Ramp Your Voice! in the future, especially after the official launch of the app.  The whole purpose of this series is to highlight the great work that advocates, professionals, innovators, and companies are doing on behalf of people with disabilities.  I plan to keep a close eye on the developments of Talkitt after the campaign ends, and I hope that my readers will too.

(Featured headlining images:  Courtesy of VoiceItt.)

About Vilissa Thompson, LMSW

Vilissa is the Founder & CEO of Ramp Your Voice!, an organization she created to establish herself as a Disability Rights Consultant & Advocate. Ramp Your Voice! is a prime example of how macro-minded Vilissa truly is, and her determination to leave a giant "tire track mark" on the world.

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