Voice banking has been a core part of my work with people with progressive neurological conditions for the last few years. The benefits of both voice and message banking are coming through loud and clear from our patients and their families—maintenance of identity and sense of self by ‘keeping’ your own voice for later use on a communication aid are key messages, as well as a feeling of being able to exercise some control at a time when everything may feel very negative. Early recording is essential.
Voice banking involves recording a set inventory of phrases, which is then used to create a ‘synthetic’ or computerised version of an individual’s own voice for use on a communication aid. This allows a person to generate an infinite amount of novel utterances, in their ‘own’ voice. The synthetic voice cannot express emotion, in the same way that a generic voice on a communication aid cannot; however this limitation does not prohibit a good outcome.
Message banking involves recording additional phrases, which are also used on a communication aid. These phrases are limited to the ones that are recorded only, and no synthetic voice is created. However, as these phrases will capture the voice fully—with all of the emotional nuances and intonation. Message banking is particularly suitable for personal phrases, such as ‘I love you’, or for expressing phrases that really capture someone’s personality, such as sarcastic comments.
Fridrik Thorsteinsson is living with Multiple System Atrophy, a Parkinson’s Plus condition, which may eventually lead to complete loss of ability to communicate through speech, and subsequent reliance on a communication aid. Fridrik is Icelandic, and has been living in the United Kingdom for many years with his wife and family, building and running a successful and award winning business. Fridrik and I first met around a year ago, as the UK was coming out of lockdown.
We quickly established that one of Fridrik’s priorities was to complete voice and message banking—in both English and Icelandic. Fridrik chose to record in English with SpeakUnique, and we were successful in achieving a good quality synthetic voice that sounds very like him. We also completed message banking in both English and Icelandic, to allow for personal phrases to be expressed in both languages.
At the time, no voice banking provider was offering voice banking in Icelandic. Undaunted by this, Fridrik teamed up with the University of Reykjavik and recorded a number of phrases in Icelandic, to be saved for a later date when a synthetic voice could be created in Icelandic. Fridrik has since become a huge advocate for voice banking in his native Iceland, teaming up with Motor Neurone Disease and Parkinson’s charities for support. We were able to organise a collaboration between SpeakUnique and the University of Reykjavik to take this further. SpeakUnique have since started experimenting with moving to languages beyond English and through this initiative with Fridrik, they have agreed to include Icelandic in the first wave of languages, with the possibility of other Scandinavian languages also being considered.
Fridrik is still able to talk—but his vocal insurance policy is in place for the future, whatever that brings.
Independent Speech and Language Therapist