November 30, 2023
A disabled advocate protects his voice with an iPhone.
For physician and disability advocate Tristram Ingham, Apple’s new speech accessibility features offer reassurance in an uncertain future.
When introducing himself, Tristram Ingham usually begins with a te reo Maori greeting before breaking into English. The New Zealand native is kind, smooth and confident with every word carefully chosen and placed. As a physician, academic researcher, and disability community leader, Ingham’s words are his strengths.
Ingham has fascioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy (FSHD), which causes progressive muscle wasting that begins in the face, shoulders and arms, and eventually leaves him unable to speak, feed himself or, in some cases, close his eyes. In the year He started using a wheelchair in 2013 and has noticed changes in his voice in recent years.
“After a long day, I find it’s getting a little difficult just to raise my voice,” he says, recounting a recent frustration: “I had to give a conference presentation last month, and this happened. , that day, I could not deliver because of my breathing. So even though I wrote it, I had to have someone else present it for me.
In the future, Ingham may not be able to use his speaking voice at all. “I know professionally that it’s getting harder to use my voice. I know that when I’m more tired, it gets quieter, harder to understand,” he says, suggesting a state of cognitive dissonance. “But on a human level, I put that out of my mind, because what can one do about it?”
This fall, Apple launched its new Personal Voice feature, with iOS 17, iPadOS 17 and macOS Sonoma. With Personal Voice, users at risk of speech loss can create a voice that sounds like them by following a series of text prompts to record a 15-minute voice. Apple has long been at the forefront of neural text-to-speech technology. With Personal Voice, Apple can train neural networks entirely on-device to advance speech accessibility while protecting users’ privacy.
“Disability communities are very wary of proxy voices speaking on our behalf,” says Ingham. “Historically speaking for the disabled, the family spoke for the disabled. If technology allows voice to be preserved and preserved, that is autonomy, that is self-determination.
Ingham created his own personal voice for Apple, “The Lost Voice,” to read aloud a new children’s book of the same name created for International Day of Disabilities using an iPhone. When he first tried the character, Ingham was surprised by how easy it was to create and how much he looked like him.
“It was very direct, I felt very relieved,” he says over the audio from his iPhone.
Live Speech, another speech accessibility feature Apple released this fall, allows users to type what they want to say and speak the phrase aloud, either in their own voice or through any of the built-in system voices. Users with physical, motor, and speech disabilities can communicate in a way that feels most natural and comfortable to them by combining live speech with features like Switch Control and AssistiveTouch that provide options to interact with their devices using physical touch.
“Technology can be critical to maintaining one’s natural voice,” said Blair Casey, executive director of the nonprofit group Gleason. The organization supports individuals with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), another progressive condition that causes speech loss in 1 in 3 people diagnosed. “Our voice is part of who we are,” Casey said, “and when diseases like ALS threaten to rob us of the ability to speak, devices like Personal Voice can help anyone feel like they’re unique.
“At Apple, we work for everyone, and that includes people with disabilities,” said Sarah Herlinger, Apple’s senior director of global accessibility policy and initiatives. “Communication is a vital part of what makes us human, and we are committed to supporting users who do not speak and those at risk of speech loss.”
For Ingham, a personal voice is just one of many tools that keep him doing what he loves.
“I’m not ready to sit at home,” Ingham said. “I work, I volunteer in the community, and I expect to make a meaningful contribution. Technology helps me do that,” he said.
Ingham’s professional achievements include credit for generating the widely used epidemiological concept of the Covid bubble, which he originally proposed as a way to protect people with disabilities and weakened immune systems during the outbreak. He also serves as Chair of the National Representative Body for Disabled Māori and advises the New Zealand Ministry of Health, which credits his work as a Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Medicine at the University of Otago, Wellington.
Perhaps the most important thing, regardless of the tone of voice, is to maintain personal relationships with friends and family.
“I have three grandchildren,” he said. “I like to read them at bedtime. Stories. They often come and spend the night, and they love stories about sea creatures, tsunamis, things like that. And I want to make sure I can continue to do that in the future. “
“You never know what’s going to happen,” he continues, “and when you have something so precious, a Property – Treasure – I think we should do everything we can to make sure we have that.
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