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Virtual reality programme created to help speech impediment sufferers

Wednesday 29th March 2017
A UK student has developed a virtual reality programme designed to help people overcome speech impediment-related anxiety. Image: Popartic via iStock
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A student with a speech impediment has designed a virtual reality programme that he believes will provide valuable help to other stammer sufferers in overcoming the anxiety associated with their speech problems.

The Independent reports that Gareth Walkom, who is studying for a master's degree in Medical Product Design at Nottingham Trent University, has used cutting-edge technology to create a virtual reality programme that allows individuals with speech impediments to practice conversation with digital avatars.

Users of the software are encouraged to communicate with these avatars on a variety of subjects before being presented with feedback on a range of areas.

For example, the software will track where their eyes were looking and how anxious the individual is feeling by monitoring their breathing.

Mr Walkom explained: "When someone stutters, they can also involuntarily look away from the person they're speaking to and their eyelids may close or flicker, so it is important to use headsets which track where the person looks during social interactions and whether they look at the person's face in order to improve their gaze."

This data will then be presented to the patient along with feedback tips on changes they could make ahead of future interactions in order to build their confidence and prevent their stammer from becoming too much of an issue.

Initial trials involving the software showed that patients with speech impediments saw their anxiety levels decrease markedly following several uses of the virtual reality headset.

In addition, some improvements in speech fluency were recorded, in line with the Real-Time Analysis of Speech Fluency scale. The virtual reality programme is able to measure this by using an algorithm to calculate the pace of speech and spot typical tics associated with stammers and stutters.

As a result, this indicates that digital programmes featuring chatbots or other avatars could have a key role to play in the future of speech therapy, providing an example of how artificial intelligence is set to transform the healthcare offerings of the future.

Written by Martin Lambert

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