A Look at Speech Generating Devices

  • What are Speech Generating Devices?
    What are Speech Generating Devices?
    Few problems are more upsetting than knowing what you want to say, but being unable to say it. This challenge is faced every day by people with conditions such as stroke, brain injury, ALS, autism, and cerebral palsy. For such individuals, one of the most exciting advances is the growth of speech generating devices (SGDs). These electronic devices speak for those who can't speak for themselves.

  • digital voice recorder, recorder, voice, speech
    Pre-recorded Words
    Less complex SGDs often use digital speech—words or sentences that have been prerecorded by a human speaker. Such systems provide a limited number of message options, ranging from fewer than eight minutes of total recordings in the least expensive models to more than 40 minutes in the priciest ones. These SGDs may be a good choice for people who need an easy-to-use device or who have trouble putting words together into sentences.

  • woman on laptop
    Text-to-Speech Devices
    More complex SGDs use synthesized speech—an artificial simulation of human speech. "They're much more flexible," says David Beukelman, Ph.D., professor of communication disorders at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. "You can type in anything, and the device will say it." Synthesized voices don't sound quite human yet, but they're getting closer.

  • Joysticks and Wands
    Joysticks and Wands
    Most people use their fingers to type on a keyboard or touch a screen. But if you don't have use of your hands, you could use a mouth stick or head wand instead. A mouth stick is a pointer that's designed to be held in your mouth. A head wand is similar, but it's strapped to your head. If you have some use of your hands but limited finger dexterity, a trackball or joystick is another possibility.

  • Speed Things Up With Predictive Software
    Speed Things Up With Predictive Software
    One drawback to SGDs is that they're much slower than ordinary speech, which can be frustrating. To help you type faster, some devices use software that predicts what you're going to type from the first few keystrokes. Then it offers the rest of the word or phrase so you don't have to type the whole thing.

  • Picture Boards
    Picture Boards
    Not everyone can spell out what they want to say. Young children, stroke survivors, and people with developmental disabilities may prefer SGDs with pictures or symbols instead of letters. "For example, if the person selects a drawing of a glass, the device might say, 'Could I have a drink, please?'" explains Dr. Beukelman.

  • Switch Controls
    Switch Controls
    If typing is too difficult, you can control your SGD with a switch. Typically, several choices will appear on the screen, and a cursor will move from one choice to the next. Perhaps you want the device to say, "Hi! How are you?" When the cursor gets to that choice, you select it by turning on the switch with your hand, knee, or toe. Other switches can be activated with a puff of air or the movement of an eyebrow.

  • Say It With Your Eyes
    Say It With Your Eyes
    At the highest end of high-tech, you can even use the gaze of your eyes like a wireless mouse. In eye tracking, a camera system tracks the glint in your eye to see where you're looking on a screen. Then it directs a cursor to that location. "So if you want to spell the word 'hi,' you look at the 'h,' and the cursor goes there," says Dr. Beukelman. "After your gaze has dwelled on that location for a set time, it clicks on the letter." In this way, you select letters, words, or symbols to create a message.

A Look at Speech Generating Devices

About The Author

  1. Medicare Funding of AAC Technology: Revised Fee Schedule, Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Communication Enhancement, 2011 (http://aac-rerc.psu.edu/index.php/pages/show/id/25);
  2. Motor Disabilities Assistive Technologies, Center for Persons with Disabilities at Utah State University, 2011 (http://webaim.org/articles/motor/assistive);
  3. Chapter 6: Speech and Communication, Muscular Dystrophy Association, May 2008 (http://www.als-mda.org/publications/everydaylifeals/ch6/);
  4. Information for AAC Users, American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, 2011 (http://www.asha.org/public/speech/disorders/InfoAACUsers.htm);
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Last Review Date: 2019 Aug 5
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