Healthy adults with fully developed vocal systems convey more information by producing speech and changing the melody of their voice.
But children and adults with severe speech-motor disorders tend to rely more heavily on melodic cues, such as volume and duration. Patel uses her understanding of speech melody to create computational tools that can dramatically improve a disordered speaker’s ability to interact with the world.
In one project, Patel overlays meolodic fluctuations from a disordered speaker’s voice with a sentence spoken by a healthy donor of the same demographic. By merging the two signals, she creates a novel synthetic voice that conveys the user’s personal identity.
For children learning how to read, Patel also develops digital tools with visual cues—such as a rising and falling line—that signal pitch changes. Research suggests that by understanding the melody of speech earlier, children may achieve greater reading comprehension.