This month, Marsha M. shares her perspective as a pALS navigating the process of preserving her voice and preparing for augmentative communication needs proactively:
“I chose to do voice and message banking because my husband and I were noticing changes in my voice such as a “gravelly” voice and low volume as the day progresses. A main issue was fatigue and lack of energy to communicate at length with friends who come for a visit. I realize that I am approaching this common voice and speech concern of ALS a little early; however, the process to get eye gaze technology is fairly involved. I wanted to be forward looking and plan for the days to come. Hopefully this will give me greater PEACE and CONTROL…that technology can be my helper.
“I was concerned about the time it would take to record messages, bank them, meet with a Speech Language Pathologist (SLP) to complete the Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) evaluation and then learn how to use the eye gaze technology. I wanted to get it done before my situation worsened and I wouldn’t have the energy to carry out the process one has to go through to get the right type of communication device.
“Something to keep in mind throughout this process is for someone (patient or caregiver) to be proactive and follow up at all stages keeping good documentation. Natsumi Asanuma is one great SLP that Susan Mast ALS has on their staff. Be sure to include her on your journey to find the best communication device for you.
“I would recommend others bank their voices and messages because it can give you HOPE to still be around, to be able to communicate with friends and family, to share your life stories and lessons with family and to leave your messages of LOVE for family members in your own voice.”
Do you have questions about voice and message banking or communication tools? Patients and families of the Susan Mast ALS Foundation can contact Natsumi Asanuma, SLP, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 616-622-3066 ext. 4 to receive assistance.
By Natsumi Asanuma, M.S., CCC-SLP
Voice banking is one process to digitally preserve your voice in case of speech or voice impairment requiring the use of a speech generating device in the future. There is a possibility of decline or loss of speech with an ALS diagnosis, and many people with ALS (pALS) choose to bank their voices before experiencing any speech changes to preserve this part of their identity. Voice banking is offered by several different organizations and companies, and while the overall process is similar, features and prices vary. Recent updates to voice banking technologies may make it easier or faster to create a custom synthesized voice for those without speech symptoms or make it possible for digital voice creation for those already experiencing speech/voice impairments.
Fewer phrases to record: Voice banking services typically have a minimum number of phrases you will have to record in order to create a custom synthesized voice. As technology has improved, some companies have reduced the number of phrases required to as few as 30-50 phrases (e.g. The Voice Keeper & Acapela My Own Voice). These options may be good for those who need to prioritize time and vocal effort/energy. Most services have options to record a greater number of phrases to enhance the likeness and quality of the voice as more voice data is input into the creation of your custom voice.
Familiar Recording Equipment & Software: Most voice banking services now offer web recorders, which make it possible to make your recordings from your computer’s Internet browser, instead of having to download software. While most services require or recommend using a USB headset microphone to record, The Voice Keeper has an option for recording on an iPhone or iPad through their app. The Susan Mast ALS Foundation offers our patients loaner recording equipment and the assistance of a speech language pathologist (SLP) free of charge as well.
Custom Phrases and Personal Message Banking: Even a custom synthesized voice is still an artificial voice, which means that some words and names may not be pronounced correctly or sound “computer-like.” To help overcome this barrier, some services now offer the option of recording custom phrases that you come up with yourself, to improve the accuracy of personally relevant words (e.g. ModelTalker & Acapela My Own Voice). Message banking is another process of preserving custom phrases in just the way you usually speak them. If you already completed message banking, some services offer a custom synthesized voice creation based off of high-quality message banking recordings (e.g. Acapela My Own Voice, The Voice Keeper, & Speak Unique Voice Design). The Jay S. Fishman ALS Augmentative Communication Program has a great explanation on this process they call “double-dipping” here.
Custom Voice Options for Those with Speech/Voice Changes: If you are unable to complete the traditional voice banking process due to speech/voice impairment that is already present, it is always a possibility to ask a family member or friend with a similar voice to yours to bank their voice for you to use. However, some services may be able to match you to a voice similar to yours from a donor (e.g. VocalID BeSpoke Voice) or voice bank with impaired speech (e.g. SpeakUnique Voice Repair) or design a voice based on chosen characteristics (e.g. SpeakUnique Voice Design).
When selecting a voice banking service, you will want to think about your individual priorities, goals, and current voice/speech quality. Consult with your SLP to decide what would be best for you. You can also review a recently updated chart of voice banking services and features here. The Susan Mast ALS Foundation offers our patients education and loan equipment on voice and message banking with an SLP. Contact Natsumi at 616-622-3066 extension 4 or email@example.com.