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Engineering Students Create App for Speech-Impaired

Free iPhone Tool Helps People Communicate Verbally

UMass Lowell Image
Matthew Campelli, left, and Ken Cramer, right, deliver their iPhone app to Rua Duong of Lowell.

By Edwin L. Aguirre

Two computer engineering graduates have developed an Apple app designed to help people with speech disabilities communicate with their friends, families and caregivers.

“Our app brings the power of text-to-speech to the iPhone,” says Matthew Campelli of Chelmsford who, together with Ken Cramer of Mansfield, created the app as part of their senior capstone project.

“Our client is Rua Duong, a Lowell resident who is suffering from a debilitating back injury resulting from an accident,” says Campelli, explaining that the injury led to problems with Duong’s ability to speak. “After typing in sentences using an on-screen keyboard, Rua can make the iPhone play the sentences out of the handheld device’s speaker by pushing the play button.”

“He immediately started using it to teach himself how to spell difficult words,” says Cramer.

Tool Is Easy to Use — and Free

“Our app is named ‘Assistive TTS’ and is available from the Apple App Store for free,” says Campelli. “It can also be found in iTunes.”

“While it’s certainly not the first iPhone text-to-speech solution, we’ve built our app with enough flexibility and features to make it very useful and easy to use,” says Cramer. “For example, users can customize the computer-generated voice to their desired pitch and speed.”

He says the app also has a “favorites” feature that helps users save commonly used phrases for easy recall later, as well as a “word-suggestion” feature that helps them spell or suggests the next word they might want to say but can’t quite remember. 

“The app can tailor itself to the user’s personality, and his or her suggestions can help improve and make the tool more relevant as time goes on,” says Cramer.

The two students met Duong through Rebecca Hall, a church friend of his who works at Office of Equal Opportunity and Outreach at UMass Lowell.

“We came up with the idea for the project after meeting and speaking with Rua,” says Campelli. “We don’t have any current plans to develop a similar app for Android smartphones.”