You may think that the Access database that comes with the top end Office suite is only useful for mundane things such as stock control but you would be wrong.
Patricia Ruckoff was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease (MND) in 2009 and her daughter Melissa of course wanted to help. MND gradually destroys upper and lower torso muscle control which includes being able to speak. Stephen Hawking is perhaps the most well known sufferer of MND and his robotic speech is almost part of his persona. But many people want to be able to communicate with more emotion and personality if possible, perhaps even speak with an accent to reflect who they are.
After trawling the internet, she found a small company called Time is Ltd. Ian Schofield is a director of the company and he is the inventor of a system called JayBee. The name is quite personal as Jay was a friend and Bridget was his mother-in-law and both succumbed to MND. He – also – wanted to help his friends communicate but the present systems were extremely expensive and had very limited predictive speech power. It took ages to type out ‘pillow’ or ‘water’ when perhaps only one muscle could be controlled. There had to be a better way, and so he set about developing a new system.
To keep costs down, he needed to use off-the-shelf software as much as possible and this is where Access proved to be so helpful. When running on a modern computer, Access is an extremely fast and powerful data processing application. This would be the backbone of the predictive speech and artificial intelligence programme that is JayBee. Mind you, it was not a trivial task – over 2,500 hours of effort was invested in developing the Visual Basic (VBA) code. Once the processing engine was in place, they worked with another company called CereProc who can create voices that sound like the original person if they have enough material to work with.
In the video below, Ian Schofield explains JayBee to Vitali Vitaliev of IET.tv.
This is an Institute of Engineering and Technology (IET) clip. I am a long-time chartered engineer with the IET and encourage any of your students aspiring to be professional engineers to look into what it can offer in terms of professional development.
This clip would be an excellent introduction into how ICT helps overcome disability.