Assistive Technologies at the Edge of Language and Speech Science for Children with Communication Disorders: VocalIDTM, Free SpeechTM, and SmartPalateTM

Assistive Technologies at the Edge of Language and Speech Science for Children with Communication Disorders: VocalIDTM, Free SpeechTM, and SmartPalateTM

Joséphine Anne Genèvieve Ancelle (Teachers College Columbia University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0034-6.ch042


About two million individuals in the United States use augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices with text-to-speech (TTS) synthesis to speak on their behalf. In this chapter, two specific systems are introduced and evaluated as potentially significant emerging tools for children with communication disorders. The VocalIDTM project was developed to provide unique voices for children who otherwise speak through standard adult voices. Free SpeechTM is an image-based system designed to address grammatical concepts perceived as abstract by children with language disorders. This chapter also reviews the latest developments in electropalatography (EPG): biofeedback technology, which enables the visualization of tongue to palate contact during speech production. SmartPalateTM has developed cutting-edge hardware and software technology to make EPG more intuitive and more accessible in the therapy room and at home.
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1. Communication Sciences And Disorders: An Overview

The field of speech language pathology and audiology is now also becoming known by its more inclusive appellation of communication sciences and disorders (CSD), as its breadth and depth of research and practice are continuously expanding to include the wide variety of elements that comprise human communication. In 1925, a few teachers of theater, debate, and rhetoric founded a scientific organization to study “speech correction” (American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, 1997-2014). Today this organization, The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), studies not only speech, but also language, hearing, and swallowing disorders. ASHA also explores the underlying mechanisms of all forms of communication and is involved in developing alternate modes of communication when typical mechanisms fail. Before delving into the description of three different assistive technologies (AT) that could revolutionize the lives of children with communication disorders, a brief overview of the various branches of the field will clarify the discussion to follow.

a. A Few Words about Communication

It is estimated that 40 million Americans have a communication disorder (Ruben, 2000). While the hallmark of human communication is the use of this organized system of arbitrary symbols we call language, people also use non-linguistic forms of communication. Communication includes all information transmitted between a sender and a receiver of a message, and, therefore, can include facial expressions, gestures, body language, etc. (Plante & Beeson, 2013). For the majority of people, language is transmitted through speech, which involves the vocalization and articulation of the message we wish to transmit. When using speech, it is usually necessary that the sender and receiver of the message be able to hear in order to code and decode that message appropriately. Language can, however, also be written, or signed in the form of sign language.

It is not until we find ourselves struggling to express or comprehend a thought that we realize we take our ability to communicate for granted; human language and speech are nothing short of miraculous. Communication disorders are either acquired after an injury or illness, or are developmental, caused by congenital conditions such as genetic syndromes, childbirth-related complications, autism, or idiopathic etiologies. A breakdown in communication can occur at any of the various stages of message transmission, starting from the formulation of the thought in the sender’s mind to the decoding of that message in the receiver’s cortex, passing by the use of our vocal folds and articulators, among other processes.

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