And, why wouldn’t I love Lucy? Lucy is my voice. She is what I sound like, both to others, and when I hear my voice. Most people don’t think about their voice, it’s just that, a part of them. Their voice. So why do I love Lucy?

The shock of hearing my own voice

I never realised what my real voice sounded like until I was 14. I made a video about my communication which included speaking (and sub-titling the video). It came as quite a shock as the voice I normally hear when speaking was my electronic voice.

My own speech is dysarthric, which means the muscles in my mouth, tongue, and throat are weak. The result is my speech can fluctuate from being a whisper to a shout in one phrase. In addition, I have huge variability in being able to sound out or say the same word in the same way twice. Added to this my hearing impairment makes me unable to hear myself say certain sounds.

Beth Moulam aged 10, with CP, using AAC device lightwriter with american voice

I was an American until I was 15

When you use an electronic communication aid (known as augmentative and alternative communication: AAC) there isn’t much choice when it comes to voices. Although things are getting better. From the age of 4 to 10 I was an American girl. Then it was so exciting as there was finally a British female. Yet after only a few weeks, I reverted to being the American girl as there were some bugs in my new voice, so it was not for me.

Beth Moulam holding lightwriter, AAC device with British Acapela voice LucyIdentifying with Lucy

It wasn’t until I was 15 that Lucy appeared in my life. It’s a British female Acapela voice and once I changed To Lucy she became the voice I now identify with. When Lucy came along she was also available for screen reading so suddenly I could read aloud my work or a message and still sound like me. It’s weird to hear yourself in a different voice to the one in your head. Yes, I love Lucy.  You can read my thoughts on AAC and identity here

Voices are personal

I recall getting a new phone at home, for me, when I was in my early teens that had some pre-stored messages. The principle was cool, yet the implementation nearly wasn’t. The engineer fitted the phone and asked Mum what I wanted to store, and set about recording the messages himself. Mum went mad! Why would I want to sound like a 50-year-old man? Fortunately, he saw her point and agreed to come back the next day. Meanwhile mum lined up a couple of her friends and when we spoke that evening asked me who I would prefer to sound like. Thank you, Jane!

Owning your voice is important. Some devices come in different colours. In the picture above you can see a pink and purple strap. This is one way I have personalised my communication aids.  Adding a strap of my choosing has made them mine.

Voice banking or ‘real’ voices

With the recent move towards having recorded ‘real’ voices, I’ve been ambivalent, until now. My own voice is too variable to record or use with voice software – I proved that when I did trials trying to use a virtual assistant (Alexa).  Also, it’s a huge thing to change your voice, at any time. I completely understand why speaking people who are losing their own voice would choose to do it. But, do I want to do that? Whoever records a new voice for me will be them. Over time I might get to identify with that voice as me.

Ever-changing technology

Will technology move on again? I’m sure it will. Normally our voice is ours for life and Lucy is part of my identity. She is me! Yes, other people speak like me, because she’s a common electronic voice. But do I want to ditch her? I’m just not sure.  But I’m not 100% convinced just for now about having someone record as me, because I love Lucy. Still, it would be nice to have Lucy with a Yorkshire accent, but still Lucy. (If you know what I mean because I love Lucy). However, it feels like that may be somewhat off.