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I Have a Voice

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This is not my natural voice. I have ALS. This progressive illness is taking away my speaking voice. Most people don't think about their voices except when they have laryngitis, but that's temporary, and ALS isn't.

I certainly notice now how easily most people engage in speech, and what an important part speech plays in many human interactions.

Fortunately for people deprived of their speaking voices, technology lets them continue to make their words heard, even if not in their own voices. For me, that technology is called NeoKate, a free app for the iPad. I type in the text, and then Kate "says" what I typed. Kate is speaking to you now.

Kate works pretty well when I'm making a speech. In two-way conversations, Kate slows things down some, since I have to type before she speaks. Long pauses can result.

Conversations involving more than two people are harder for Kate -- and me. They often go off on tangents. People talk over each other. By the time I've finished typing a response, the conversation may well have taken three other turns. When Kate says what I've typed, people have to remember the topic, and get drawn back to a part of the conversation they thought was finished.


Kate won't let me banter, that hallmark of so much contemporary conversation. When the spoken exchange involves quips, Kate simply cannot keep up.

It would be extreme to even the playing field by making everyone communicate this way. But if we couldn't talk over each other all the time we might be better listeners. I may be losing my ability to speak, but I still have a voice and fortunately I still have that most necessary complement to a voice -- a pair of ears.

With a Perspective, I'm Barbara Brenner.

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