SA invention soothes stuttering

first_imgThe credit card-sized VoiceAmp 601 Fluency EnhancerTamara O’ReillySouth African inventor Alan Falck has patented a remarkable new device that can help people overcome stuttering. The credit card-sized VoiceAmp 601 Fluency Enhancer uses the soothing effects of choral sounds to allow stutterers speak more fluently.A socially debilitating condition, stuttering occurs when the normal flow of speech is disrupted with pauses, frequent repetitions or a prolongation of the first syllable of words. Speaking before a group of people or talking on the telephone tends to make it more severe. More than 1% of the South African population are stutterers, while 5% stutter at some time and recover spontaneously during childhood.“It is not known what causes stuttering, but what we do know is that it is a complex interplay of a combination of factors like genetics, family dynamics and child development,” says Dina Lilian, speech therapist at the Donald Gordon Medical Centre in Johannesburg.There is no cure for stuttering. But for 70 years it has been known that situations where a phenomenon called choral accompaniment occurs – such as singing, reciting poetry or speaking alone – often improve fluency.Knowing that hearing one’s own voice can also cause a person to speak effortlessly, Falck, the managing director of VoiceAmp, invented the device in collaboration with research teams at the University of the Witwatersrand and other South African universities. It is now being successfully marketed across the world.Falck is no stranger to inventions; he has been known to be creative with his hands from the age of eight, when he started making solar panels. His interest in speech aids began when his grandfather lost his ability to speak clearly; Falck invented a device that amplified his grandfather’s vocal chords.How it worksThe VoiceAmp 601 is based on an electronic reproduction of choral accompaniment, where the device receives the user’s voice signal via a microphone. This signal is then processed by the device and altered to produce a choral voice. The choral voice is then played back to the user via an earpiece, which unlocks the stuttering effect and allows the user to speak with little or no interruption.Settings for three different background noise levels can be programmed to simulate noisy to quiet backgrounds at the flick of a switch.“This device helps mainly those with a severe stutter and is best used in conjunction with speech therapy,” says Lilian. “For those who have benefited it really does make a remarkable difference to their lives.”Useful linksVoiceAmpSpeakeasylast_img read more

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World Cup spirit lives on in Youth Zones

first_img2 August 2010The energy and spirit of South Africa’s 2010 Fifa World Cup is being harnessed for sustainable social development in Africa through the Youth Zones initiative, which combines football, computer literacy and life-skills training to create an enabling environment for young people in disadvantaged communities.Youth Zones is a joint initiative of the Foundation for a Safe South Africa (FSSA), the 2010 Local Organising Committee (LOC), the Embassy of the Netherlands and the Institute for Democracy in Africa (Idasa).In South Africa, the programme is already running in sites where the LOC built high-level synthetic football pitches, in Mamelodi, Evaton North and Cosmo City in Gauteng province; Upington in the Northern Cape; Somerset West and East in the Western Cape; Siyabuswa in Mpumalanga; Jane Furse in Limpopo province; and Mogwase in Rustenburg, North West province.It is also running in Umzimkhulu and Mutare in neighbouring Zimbabwe, and in Manica in Mozambique.Grass-roots capacity buildingThe programme aims to build the capacity of grass-root football teams by supporting them with football equipment, coaching and organisational growth.At the same time, the computer literacy component teaches youngsters how to use computers and provides them with internet, while the life-skills component teaches communication, conflict resolution, teamwork, responsibility, health and leadership.Overall, the programme aims to create enabling environments in which young people develop self-belief and the confidence they need to take risks and be creative.Each community is encouraged to launch three small “organic” projects of their own initiative. Projects already off the ground revolve around netball, gymnastics, culture, English literacy, entrepreneurship, and combating HIV/Aids.“The challenge is to prevent those who are born into victim circumstances from becoming offenders,” says project leader Roelf Meyer of the Foundation for a Safe South Africa. “Making choice available in these circumstances can transform lives away from crime to real and legitimate opportunity. We promote safety by proactively investing in society, by stopping crime before it happens.”Friendships form the foundationProject coordinator Schalk van Heerden says Youth Zones is “not about just kicking a ball. It’s about the social relations inherent in a team, the family dynamic that provides energy, support and accountability. That’s why we use football and even netball teams to learn and become change agents in their communities.”The approach, says Van Heerden, is built on a relational model, in which friendships form the foundation for sustainable actions and programmes.Once real-life friendships have been established and computer literacy is in place, the focus shifts to a virtual community, where besides Skype, Facebook and e-mail, participants interact on the www.youthzones.co.za website.One of the members of the youth website, Nelson Veremo, says they are encouraged to blog, upload photos, chat and to share stories of hope as well as failure.“Any person can join – boys, girls from any place,” says Veremo. “It’s very interesting knowing we are not alone in our struggles and dreams.”Doctor Mabila, of the Institute for Democracy in Africa (Idasa), says participants learn practical things from one another, and that the youngsters are proud to share their stories.Mabila says they are hoping that by the time the 2014 Fifa World Cup kicks off in Brazil, the Youth Zones network will be able to showcase South Africa’s shared humanity, mutual learning and care.Other organisations and companies backing the Youth Zones initiative include Torque IT, the Kelly Group, Microsoft, Convergence Partners, SAB, ABI, Khulisa, Fevertree and Heartlines.BuaNewslast_img read more

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