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'Picture-To-Speech' Projects Help Disabled Speak

A "picture-to-speech" project in Singapore is using a customised personal digital assistant (PDA) to dramatically improve the lives of the intellectually disabled,// innovators said Thursday.

Instead of fumbling with homemade pictures, the handheld innovation helps those with speech impairments express their needs in such everyday tasks as ordering food or asking for medical attention from an archive of commonly-used phrases and graphics.

The initiative is spearheaded by the Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore (MINDS).

"Each picture corresponds to a recorded voice," said programme director Sivaraj Mahaindra. The user clicks on the picture and the software vocalises his selection.

Similar systems are available elsewhere, but Mahaindra said they are more expensive and contain pictures that are rarely used in the city-state. MINDS is also considering adding location tracking to the device.

A prototype is on trial among 20 users. The made-in-Singapore unit costs around Singapore $200. Alternatives cost as much as $1,500.

Eighty percent of the intellectually disabled have difficulty articulating words, Mahaindra said, adding he hopes to have 300 Singaporeans equipped with the PDAs by 2009.

The development effort has received a $92,300 grant from the South Korean electronic giant Samsung.

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