Gadget's great gift of free speech

LORNA MARSH Thousands of adults and children are being offered a release from the pain of stammering thanks to a revolutionary device being launched today with the help of a Norfolk man.

LORNA MARSH

Thousands of adults and children are being offered a release from the pain of stammering thanks to a revolutionary device being launched today with the help of a Norfolk man.

Dom Willis, 39, has lived with his stammer for years, but lately he has been able to converse relatively unhindered by his condition, and he says this has been life-enhancing beyond measure.

Mr Willis, a nurse manager from Fakenham, took part in trials for the VoiceAmp 601i aid, which has not been available in the UK until now and is the first of its kind to hit these shores.

Similar devices were available in other countries, such as the USA, but those wanting them would have had to travel thousands of miles and spend significant sums without the reassurance of trial periods, locally-based support and speech therapy, which is used alongside the aid.

Now the VoiceAmp could change the lives of the 600,000 adults and children in this country who are believed to stammer, just as it has given Mr Willis a new outlook.

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Stammering can have a significant impact on family, schooling, employment and social life, leading often to stress and feelings of low esteem. For many, the social stigma can be more inhibiting and debilitating than the stammering itself, and many adults are inclined to stutter in stress-inducing situations.

The device works by exploiting the "choral effect", which sees people who stammer speaking clearly when singing or talking in unison with someone who is fluent. This tricks the brain into thinking the speaker is talking alongside another voice by electronically altering and reproducing their own voice.

It is similar to the SpeechEasy device featured by the EDP last year in the story of Norwich woman Heidi King, who went to America to obtain one as nothing similar was available here.

Now, thanks to Mr Willis, stammerers no longer have to travel across the Atlantic.

He said: "I recently met an old friend in a noisy pub and really enjoyed myself and relaxed, which was great. I was using the VoiceAmp 601i. Both he and his wife were amazed.

"During the last few weeks I have trialled it whilst chairing staff meetings, attending manager meetings, teaching students, appraising staff and using the telephone. I never anticipated it to be a quick fix, but the support that it has given my work-based communication has been so appreciated."

More information at www.voiceamp.co.uk; telephone number 0845 680 0375