Posted on 26 September 2022

With the digital world evolving quicker than our brains can imagine, a magnitude of advancements in artificial intelligence has hastened the demand for new innovation in all areas of the economy. In particular, the levels of use of artificial intelligence and voice technology for things such as dictation, simple search results and even home temperature and cooking control has increased by a magnitude in the last decade. Of course, these technologies are usually developed for use in areas such as military and computer design, but there is often a trickle down effect to other areas of society, namely the use of AI for disabled people to better access the world. In particular, Speech and Language Therapists have begun to use voice assisted technology (VAT) with their patients in sessions to facilitate learning and therapy for disorders of voice control, hearing and communication. This new innovation allows therapy to be delivered across the patients life, not just when engaging in a room with a therapist, and benefits the uptake of exercises and practice in private life. 

A recent study in the Journal of Medical Internet Research reported the experiences of UK speech and language therapists using voice-assisted technology (VAT) (e.g. Alexa, Siri) with their clients to explore barriers and application and how the technology can assist in compliance and therapy uptake. The therapists stated that VAT was used with 10 different client groups, such as people with dysarthria (a motor speech disorder of quality and clarity) and patients using hearing aids and other speech augmenting technology. Of the patients involved, many found the use of VAT improved their practice at home and incentivized compliance with their provided therapy. The use of VAT significantly improved the outcomes and goals for client speech, with articulation and volume control improving across the board.  

Voice technology is used in certain conditions whereby individual lose the ability to talk altogether, particularly in those conditions such as motor neuron disease, with Professor Stephen Hawking giving much public ability of the effects of these insidious diseased. Patients who are expected to progress to a more severe form of disease which effects the cognitive functioning of the brain are often assigned a voice bank whereby as many phrases and words are recorded as possible to provide a synthetic voice when they lose their ability to speak unassisted.  

Around the world, a recent questionnaire found that nearly 1 in 10 children have problems with speech, language, voice and other auditory conditions. The majority of these young children receive speech and language therapy in schools, and it was found that nearly one million US children receive in person, online and voice assisted therapy sessions. In children, the effect of speech and language issues have a significant impact on their quality of life, with symptoms and effects such as ;

       Detrimental effects on their classroom performance

       A lack of ability of self-expression and connection with their family and parents

       Socialization issues with peers and friends.

       Secondary behavioral issues such as poor mental health, concentration, depression and disorders such as ADHD and autism.

A secondary outcome from the pandemic with school closures, masked children and isolation has likely hastened the onset of a magnitude of developmental issues in children such as autism and behavioral problems due to a lack of stimulus and the inability to read body language, cues and lip reading. These issues will be treated effectively with voice assisted technology and with annunciation, pronunciation and word formulation, by allowing children and adults with the issues to practice at home, improve their language and retention and articulation. The scope of using AI and voice assisted technology is a buzzing area of medical science, and other ventures by the likes of American tech billionaire Elon Musk are progressing the developmental of brain chips to restore speech in individuals born death or mute. Speech and language therapy will be in continued demand in the wake of the pandemic and is likely to remain one of the highest requested services as society continues.

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