STAR: an innovative app for speech therapy

Source: NHE Sep/Oct 17

Dr Stuart Cunningham, a senior lecturer in Human Communication Sciences at the University of Sheffield, on a new app set to support speech and language professionals to deliver articulation therapy.

The use of speech technology is growing rapidly. More and more products are being developed that make use of speech recognition or speech synthesis. These can be in devices for the home, such as the Amazon Echo, or mobile apps like Siri or Cortana. This growth has come about from the increasing reliability of speech technology and a consequential rise in its acceptance by users. 

The growth of speech technology for mainstream applications is being mirrored in research into clinical and therapeutic uses of this resource. In the UK alone there are now several groups of researchers who are working on new tech that can be used to help people with impairments. For instance, this might be making a speech synthesiser to speak with the voice of an individual who can no longer talk due to a condition like motor neurone disease. Another example is the use of speech recognition in a therapy program for people with aphasia, a language disorder that can occur after a stroke.

One area where speech recognition could make a big difference to clinical practice is in helping people with speech disorders. It is now possible to use specially created speech recognition algorithms to assess how people are talking. 

A project funded by the National Institute of Health Research has developed an app to help with this type of therapy. A team of researchers from Barnsley Hospital and the University of Sheffield has worked with developers at Therapy Box Ltd to produce an app that incorporates advanced speech recognition that will provide feedback to the user on their speech. 

We have developed an app to support speech and language therapists to deliver articulation therapy. This type of treatment is given to people who need to improve the accuracy of particular speech sounds. Stroke survivors and children with hearing impairment often require this type of therapy. Unfortunately it often consists of repetitious drills – repeating a word or sound many times – which can be time-consuming and expensive to deliver.  

The app has been tested with children with hearing impairment and stroke survivors and their speech and language therapists. During the testing, therapists and their clients used the app as part of their usual treatment. The results of this testing have led to changes in the final version of the app to make it easier to use and provide a wider range of activities to practice. 

The project has demonstrated the benefits of working closely with both speech and language therapists and their clients to improve the technology prior to it being launched to the wider public. 

The app is intended to launch as a product in the iTunes App Store by the end of 2017.




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