CHILDREN in Scotland who need text-to-speech “voice machines” to help with communication will for the first time have their words produced in an age-appropriate Scottish accent.

Until now, young people have only had access to child voices with English or American accents – or adult Scottish accents.

Now, thanks to pioneering work in Edinburgh, that will change, thanks to new synthesised Scottish-accented children’s voices being made available for computer voices.

The voices are available free of charge to all government-funded organisations in Scotland, allowing young people with speech difficulties to access them at no cost.

Around 330,000 people in the UK need communication tools to help them speak, due to a variety of diseases, illnesses and conditions, from dyslexia to motor neurone disease, cerebral palsy and multiple sclerosis.

Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) tools are used to supplement and improve limited communication skills.

The new voices have been developed by Edinburgh-based text-to-speech specialist CereProc for CALL Scotland, a research and service unit based in the University of Edinburgh.

Its work is primarily funded by the Scottish Government and it helps children and young people to overcome disability and barriers to learning.

From today, users have access to a boy’s voice and a girl’s voice, both developed by recording two 11-year-old child actors,who grew up close to Edinburgh.

Under the licensing scheme funded by Scottish Government, CereProc has made these voices available free of licensing charges to manufacturers of AAC equipment with the aim of reducing the cost of AAC equipment and making it more accessible to those in need.

Paul Nisbet, director of CALL Scotland, said: “We are very excited about the release of Andrew and Mairi, the new Scottish child computer voices, which are now available from our Scottish Voice web site alongside Heather and Stuart, CereProc’s adult voices, and Ceitidh, the Scottish Gaelic voice.

“Previously, children in Scotland who use communication aids had a choice of speaking with the adult Scottish voices, or of using child voices with English or American accents.

“Now they at last have the option to use a voice that is appropriate for their age, culture and nationality. “

The voices are designed for communication but can also be used by children and young people with dyslexia or visual impairment to read digital textbooks from CALL’s Books for All Database, curriculum resources, or the SQA Digital Question Papers which were developed by CALL and the SQA in 2008.

Since March 2018, access to communication equipment and support has been a legal right for any person who has lost their voice or has difficulty speaking.

Nisbet added: “New legislation gives children and adults with communication needs in Scotland the right to voice output technology: having a high-quality Scottish voice is an essential component and so we are very pleased to have been able to work with Scottish Government, CereProc and AAC manufacturers to make this happen.”