Sunday, September 28, 2014

Tablet Computer Aids for People Who Cannot Speak Clearly

I presented How iPad Text to Speech Might Help People Who Cannot Speak Clearly on September 28th to Gary Ingram's Parkinson Fight Club at The Villages, FL.

Some people with Parkinson's Disease or other speech deficiencies have difficulty speaking loudly enough or clearly enough to be heard. They might benefit from free or low-cost computer apps that allow them to type text or click on already composed phrases and have the machine talk for them. You may download my Powerpoint Show by CLICKING HERE.

As you undoubtedly know, Stephen Hawking, the world-renown cosmologist, has long used a computer aid to compose his scientific papers and to allow him to speak to others. The advent of tablet computers and free -or low cost- application programs has made this technology available to nearly everybody.

As a member of the excellent support group called the "Parkinson Fight Club" I am aware that Parkinson's is a progressive, incurable, degenerative disease that, despite the the best medication and physical therapy, may rob victims of the ability to speak clearly. The founder and leader of our support group, Gary Ingram, has mentioned Stephen Hawking and wondered if the technology that he uses to communicate could be applied to help some of our members.

In response to Gary's request, I searched for "text to speech free" for apps that would run on my iPad. Dozens of free apps were offered. I only had the time to check out a few of them, two of which I demonstrated to the support group. There may be other iPad apps that are better, particularly the ones you have to pay for. (And, be aware that most of the "free" apps will try to sell you upgrades that offer more functionality. Some of these extra features may well be worth the money if you need them. Fortunately for me, my speaking voice is still strong and clear despite my Parkinson's.)

In addition to iPad apps, I'm sure there are many available for Android tablets and other devices, including smart phones. 

The purpose of this posting is simply to make you aware that this technology exists and that it may help you or a loved one speak clearly.

In addition to Text to Speech apps, there are others that utilize a visual system. A friend who has taught special needs children put me onto a picture-board app, called SoundingBoard. This app has some intriguing features and may be just the ticket for users who are not adept at typing. (Thanks Terri!)

At our most recent meeting, I demonstrated two Text to Speech apps, plus the SoundingBoard app. (The logos for these apps are shown in the image above). 

Text to Speech - Voice Synthesiser for iOS, Gwyn Durbridge.

This app is simple and easy to use, but has limited capability. You just type your text message, click on Speak, and the app does its job, speaking the message. The user may press Speak again to have the tablet repeat the message. The user may edit the message and have the tablet Speak it again. To enter and speak another message, just click on Clear and repeat the process.

A neat feature is that you may use sliders to control the Rate and Pitch of the speech. You may also choose from some 36 different voices for different languages (including US and UK English).

Most important YOU DO NOT HAVE TO BE CONNECTED TO THE INTERNET to use this app. This is a considerable advantage if you will be using this app on your tablet in areas where an Internet connection is not available. (The other apps I tried would not work properly when there was no Internet connection). 

The biggest limitation of this app is that it does not have the ability to store useful phrases or sentences you may wish to use repeatedly. There is only one message stored at a time. You have to type each new message from scratch.

mText2Speech - Text to Speech with Auto Translate, MarkelSoft, Inc.

This App is easy to use and has the very useful ability to store and have the tablet say a number of pre-written messages, such as: "My name is Ira and I live at
", "Yes, I agree", "No, I do not agree", "Please help me get to the nearest restroom", "Please call my wife at

This app also enables the user to type a new message and have the tablet say it. Once spoken, the new message will be remembered unless the user clears it. Unfortunately, if you are not connected to the Internet, the program may get stuck on one of the recent messages and say it over and over, preventing you from selecting a different message or entering a new one.

This app also has the ability to translate from one language to another, so you can, for example, type a message in English and have it spoken in Italian, French, or a number of other languages.

SoundingBoard, AbleNet.

This app takes a non-text approach, which makes it attractive for users who cannot type well. It comes with a considerable number of pre-recorded messages that the use may activate by pressing virtual keys on a picture board.

The user selects from a list of categories, such as Clarification, Emergency Help, Shopping, Social, Yes/No, and so on. Selection of a category causes display of up to nine images on a picture board. When the user touches an image, the tablet speaks the associated pre-recorded message.

For example, I demonstrated the following sequence starting with the Shopping category: "Excuse me", "Can you help me?", "Where is the ..." (that automatically brought up a new picture board with supermarket items), "Cereal", "Milk ..." (I pressed the back arrow to the previous picture board) "How much is that?", "Thank you". 

Under the My Emergency Information category, the user may select: "My name is ", "My phone number is ", "My home address is
", "My medications are ".

The free version allows the user to Edit the response associated with each picture, but the changes I made were not stored by the app. They offer a "Buy Board" option, so I guess it costs extra to have Edit capability (and may well be worth it).


This speaking aid technology is available and useful. The iPad and other tablet computers are relatively low in cost and portable and may be operated by many people who have speaking deficiencies.  If you need this type of device, I hope this introductory information may prove useful, and I would love to hear from you if you wish to post comments to this Blog thread.

Ira Glickstein


Anonymous said...

Fantastic presentation! Thank You!,
Gary Louis Ingram.

Ira Glickstein said...

THANKS Gary for running the Parkinsos Fight Club so well and for giving me the opportunity to given a talk about use of the iPad. Ira