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Boy picked as voice for iPad app, helps families
by Caroline Young
August 15, 2012 11:00 AM | 5210 views | 0 0 comments | 31 31 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Staff / Nathan Self<br>
Emerson Delonga, 12, son of Sandy and Steven Delonga of Buckhead, takes a seat in front of the microphones at Doppler Studios.
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Tens of thousands of families use 12-year-old Emerson Delonga’s voice every day as their primary form of communication.

Delonga, a Buckhead resident and seventh-grader at Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School in Sandy Springs, was picked in April out of hundreds of American boys to record his voice onto an iPad application for children who can not communicate, usually with conditions like autism and Down syndrome.

“A lot of those kids are very smart but they just can’t express it,” Delonga said.

A girl from Indianapolis was chosen as the female voice. The application, Proloquo2Go 2.1, was created by two companies, Amsterdam-based AssistiveWare and Belgium-based Acapela Group. It is an upgrade from an earlier version, which used a computerized voice.

As of July 25, Proloquo2Go 2.1 is available in the U.S. and the U.K. with male and female voices for both countries.

“We were looking for a child old enough to read well and sufficiently articulate, yet sounding young enough to make a great child voice that would benefit a wide range of children,” David Niemeijer, AssistiveWare’s founder and CEO, said in an email. “The voice also needed to sound pleasant and the boy in question needed to be able to spend several days in the studio recording thousands of sentences and hundreds of words in a consistent fashion.”

Delonga recorded in Doppler Studios on Piedmont Circle in Midtown for four days straight, four hours at a time.

“I was saying full sentences but they’d take parts of them to build extra words so they can make any sentences they want,” he said.

Delonga said he knows at least two children who can not speak because of autism or Down syndrome.

“I’m really proud that I can help those people speak and help change these kids’ and families’ lives,” he said.

Niemeijer said parents using the application are reporting increased independence of children, better communication in the family, decreases in behavioral problems and better performance in school.

“In about 50 percent of the cases, parents have reported an increase in verbalization and speech of the child using the software,” he said. “The text-to-speech voices provide a perfect, consistent model for children to practice their own speech on.”

In the future, Niemeijer said there are hopes to provide better access options for children with physical impairments, too. And he said there are plans to work on other languages for the application.

“We come from a small country where we speak a language [Dutch] spoken only by maybe 20 million people, so we understand the value of supporting not just English speakers.”

The $190 application can be bought on iTunes but people who already own the application can add the new voices for free.

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