For more than 15 years, Tufts junior Jack McDermott has been visiting a speech therapist, working hard to try and find his voice. As he’s continued to make progress, however, he realized he wanted to help others do the same, launching Balbus Speech in hopes to innovate speech therapy.
The company’s first app, Speech4Good, has attracted more than 1,300 downloads since launching just over a year ago. Through Speech4Good, users can visualize their speech in real time on a digital speech graph, formally known as an oscilloscope, and then listen to themselves at a delayed interval through a delayed auditory feedback (DAF) setting. The oscilloscope allows users to focus on something visually and shows them when they’re stuttering, while the DAF is simultaneously forcing them to speak more slowly. Users can also record and catalog their sessions, and later email them to their speech therapist.
After seeing such quick success with Speech4Good, McDermott decided to expand Balbus Speech’s offerings. The company’s latest iOS app has hit the App Store today, called Fluently. Available on the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch, Fluently is designed to help people who stutter, as well as those with articulation, voicing and other speech disorders practice their speech therapy on the go.
Fluently sprang from a secondary feature McDermott tossed into Speech4Good, yet kept hearing his customers rave the most about. “I knew my next app would be a visual cue for speech therapy,” he says, which is exactly that.
Fluently integrates a proprietary voice-processing algorithm to detect real-time fluctuations in speech. When a user’s speech is stuttered, pushed or spoken harshly, the app displays a visual cue, which changes from a green to red light.
After speaking with students and clinicians at the New England Fluency Program, McDermott designed Fluently to monitor “easy onset.” With easy onset, people are urged to speak their first sounds easily, so they can glide into their words. McDermott says his own speech therapists had him practice “slow and gentle beginnings to sounds,” because “people who stutter are more likely to do it on their first sound.”
When a user is not practicing easy onset, Fluently shuts off. For added accessibility, however, the app’s algorithm can be adjusted on a slider scale, allowing for increased or decreased sensitivity for each individual user.
“The hard thing is, when you’re practicing speech therapy, you say, ‘Try this, try that,’ but there’s nothing to show you when you’re doing it right,” McDermott says. Now speech therapists can use Fluently, and tell their students, “Let’s try and keep the green light on and ease into our sounds.”
“Stuttering and speech is such an auditory process,” McDermott acknowledges. “It’s hard to really gauge when you stutter or have a harder time speaking. We’re trying to make it more easy-to-see and more engaging for people who need more help speaking.”
Balbus Speech will continue developing apps, although McDermott says they’re moving away from building speech therapy apps “to apps that help people communicate in the real world.” He wants to see his apps being utilized more by the end user, as opposed to schools, teachers and speech therapists.
“There’s a lot going on for the future,” McDermott says, admitting he has one simple goal: to keep “selling and creating apps that help people speak more fluently.”
Fluently is available for $9.99 in the App Store. To purchase, click here.