Your voice is how you engage with the world. So what happens when a person loses the ability to speak? With technological advances, people with vocal disabilities are able to use assistive devices to communicate. Many times these devices use a voice that can sound robot-like. One company has set out to humanize these narrations, and PA Virtual Charter School students and staff have joined this innovative new project.
Over the holiday break this past December, the school challenged students to join the VocaliD project. The VocalID platform creates unique vocal identities using “donations” from real people to give its recipients a human sounding voice. To join, students created accounts and began to dictate sounds and words through the VocaliD online platform called BeSpoke. VocaliD then processes these noises and words into a Human Voicebank – like a blood bank, for those in need. The complexity of creating a unique voice requires 7-8 hours of soundbites in an effort to fully digitize a human voice.
PA Virtual 5th grade teacher Aubrey Pace was one of the first to complete the challenge. “I love the idea of bringing life to people of all ages that don’t have a voice and cannot express themselves the way we can,” she said. “We always encourage our students to give back to their local community, and this was a great way for them to give back on a much larger scale without even leaving the house!”
Over 140 students have already participated in donating their voices, thanks in large part to the ease of joining the program. Cyber schools in PA provide each student with a laptop that comes with a microphone and camera, and many PA Virtual students use audio headsets for class.
Ninth grade student Naomi Wegner knows that advancements in this type of technology are big – she compared it to the telephone or the car. “I read passages from one of my favorite stories, The Wizard of Oz, so it was easy for me to be charismatic and personable with my voice because I was familiar with the material, said Naomi. “It’s so exciting to think that one day someone will be able to use my voice to communicate with their friends and family.”
Corrine Putnick and her son Robert, a 10th grade student at PA Virtual, both participated in the project. Corrine encourages the idea of giving back, and when this opportunity was presented, both thought it was a unique and exciting way to give back. “I didn’t even know there was a way to give someone a voice, someone who doesn’t have the ability to speak on their own,” said Corrine. “As we started to look into the program, we thought it was really neat and wanted to get involved, both as a student and as a learning coach.”
Using the thousands of voices that have been donated, people with speech disabilities who use VocaliD will each receive a custom blended voice that matches their age, gender and even geographical location.
To learn more about how you can be a part of the VocaliD Project at PA Virtual, contact Doug Wessels, Director of Service Learning. To learn more about the Vocalid program, please visit https://www.vocalid.co/.