What Is a Speech Generating Device?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A speech generating device is a piece of medical equipment that produces speech for someone who has severe speech impairments or other medical issues that make it difficult to speak. This device can be used by people with significant speech impediments, damaged vocal cords, or brain damage that makes it difficult to produce speech. They can also be useful for people who are nonverbal, but need to be able to communicate basic information, like requests for food or assistance with the bathroom.

A tablet computer may be used as a portable speech generating device.
A tablet computer may be used as a portable speech generating device.

Stand-alone speech generating devices operate as portable units that just facilitate speech. The user can enter words or phrases with a keyboard or the use of a visual display with pictures, and the device can produce synthetic speech. Some also include prerecorded phrases, which the user may be able to activate with a quick keystroke. Thus, for example, someone might record a message that says “I communicate with assistance from a speech generating device, please be patient” to alert people upon meeting to the purpose of the device.

It is also possible to use devices like cell phones, tablet computers, and laptops as speech generating devices. In this case, the user can install an application with this functionality. Some people with disabilities prefer these devices for communication because they offer a variety of options in one device. Rather than carrying multiple pieces of equipment around for different needs, people can just carry one, to save space and make it easier to switch tasks. These speech generating devices may also have advanced features like multilingual functionality, which can be important in some settings.

Patients who would benefit from a speech generating device can work with a speech-language pathologist to learn how to use it. The learning curve can be steep, and some patients find communication frustrating because it can be very slow. The artificial voice can also sound odd, especially when handling unusual or complex words. Some patients may also consider other alternative and augmentative communication (AAC) options to establish contact with people, including simply writing messages, using sign language, or working with a communications board.

People interacting with someone who uses a speech generating device should be aware that input and feedback can be slow. It is important to avoid interrupting or bombarding people with questions that may be hard to answer all at once. The slightly slower speed of communication with a speech generating device can be important to keep in mind during interviews and other situations where people may want information quickly.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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