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A New Way for Persons with Speech Impairments to Talk on the Phone

By Jay Blocksom


 In todayís fast paced society, finding the quickest, best and most affordable way to do things is even more important to someone with a speech disability. Take the inability to speak for example. Thereís sign language which is basically universal. Real time use of your hands makes it pretty fast, and the fact that is costs nothing makes it more than affordable. But what if the person youíre trying to talk to doesnít know sign language or, what if thereís an emergency situation and you need to use a telephone?

Hello. My name is Jay Blocksom and these are the kinds of questions that my wife Melissa and I had to ask when she started to lose her ability to speak normally due to a speech impairment.

Melissaís job required that she use her voice for doing client intake over the telephone. When we looked at the current methods available for persons who are speech impaired to talk on a phone we were happy, at first. We discovered all kinds of TTYs or teletypewriters, speech-to-speech and other forms of voice relay systems. But when we found out how much it would cost in terms of time and money, our elation was short lived.

TTY devices are freely provided to citizens of many states of which California is included. However, a when person without a speech impairment calls someone with a speech impairment, if their telephone carrier isnít the one that provides the voice relay service for that state, then the caller has to pay a special toll. Also, voice relay calls of any type take two to three times longer to make than normal phone calls just because youíre using a third-party. Add to this the fact of everything you say is heard by this third person (even though relay operators are legally bound to confidentiality) and you can probably understand why my wifeís employer wasnít too keen on the idea of her using a TTY to do her job.

Thatís when we decided that none of the current methods was going to be fast enough, good enough, or cost effective enough to get the job done. Around this same time we re-discovered text-to-speech software. Previous versions had sounded robotic and even other-worldly like, but the newer versions were more natural sounding. We tried a few and were surprised at the quality. This meant that my wife could talk anywhere her laptop was, or anywhere there was a PC with text-to-speech software installed, or a speech-generating device (SGD). We looked at SGDs but they were very expensive. (See our article on creating your own speech-generating-device). But we both knew that having the text-to-speech software on her laptop would meant she could have the best of both worlds without carrying around two different devices. Ė a PC and an SGD.

One half of the problem was solved. Putting text-to-speech software on a portable PC was one thing but what about the telephone problem? Thatís when I figured if there were just a way to get synthesized speech directly into a telephone, no third party or relay operator would be needed! The call would then never cost more than any other call. Privacy in any and every situation! A new sense of freedom! But how could this be done?

After two and a half years Iíve developed a system thatís built on a patented telephone interface. It does all of the things mentioned above with a limitation thatís part of the design. The Speech Assistant can connect to practically any cordless phone or cell phone with a 2.5mm jack in the handset. This includes VOIP, cell phones, cordless, digital and wireless. The system is especially great for persons with speech impairments who travel.

The Speech Assistant is so light and portable (weighs less than a half pound) that it can be carried virtually anywhere. Retailing at just $329.00, it can be purchased either with or without a cordless telephone, and with or without a variety of text-to-speech voices.

Jay Blocksom is President of JITA Technologies, LLC.  For more information about the Speech Assistant - including an actual demo - please visit: www.speechassistant.com


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