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Lee Ridley aka Lost Voice Guy: the communication revolution (technology and disabled people series)

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Emma Tracey Emma Tracey | 13:45 UK time, Friday, 2 November 2012

Lee Ridley using his tablet computer. (Photo taken by Caroline Briggs)

Lee Ridley, 31, has cerebral palsy. His day job is as a member of the media team at Sunderland City Council, but you might be more familiar with his stand-up comedian name, Lost Voice Guy.

Lee can't speak. He received lots of publicity earlier in the year due to the unique way in which he delivers his material. His entire comedy act is spoken by a synthetic voice, via an app on his tablet computer.

Lee's jokes, which are primarily about life with a disability, have been praised by Matt Lucas, Ross Noble and other famous comics.

As a child, Lee communicated using a mixture of gestures and sign language but getting his point across has become faster, easier and more efficient over the years, because of advances made in specialist and mainstream technology. His education, career and social life have all been enhanced by portable gadgets that speak and connect to the internet.

The self-confessed geek from Newcastle explains the major part technology plays in every aspect of his life in his answers to our disability and technology questions.

What technology do you use regularly?

I'm quite a geek so I use a lot of technology. I use my iPad and iPhone every day, mainly to surf the net, watch TV, chat to friends or check my social media. I previously used my PC for all of that but it's easier and quicker now to do it on my tablet computer.

As I am unable to speak, these advances in technology have changed my life dramatically. I often find it hard to make calls on my mobile phone while on the go. Ever since texting became popular, I have been able to communicate with people a lot more easily and effectively. Now I can tweet, Facebook and chat on the go as well so I feel that I'm more connected to my friends and family.

The most important piece of kit for me, though, is specialist technology called a Lightwriter which I use constantly to speak. I type in what I want to say and it says it in a synthetic voice when I press the speak button. It can store phrases too, where you press a few buttons and a whole sentence comes up, but I only really use this feature to save time while on the phone. It can be a pain
carrying it around everywhere though. And, because it's in a case, I have to stop and open it up if someone speaks to me when I'm on the move.

Without the Lightwriter, however, communicating at all would be very difficult indeed.

I may be showing my age but I remember a time before electronic communication aids, when sign language was my only way of communicating. Not many people could understand it so I had to rely on those close to me to relay what I was saying or just use gestures to get my point across. My Lightwriter has made me much more independent and given me a lot of opportunities in life that I wouldn't otherwise have had. I doubt I'd have survived university without it.

What technology do you wish had never been invented?

In a weird way, I sometimes wish the internet hadn't been invented. The benefits of the internet massively outweigh the negatives but sometimes I do think that it distracts me from doing other stuff such as reading a good book.

Of course, I could do both if I had a bit more discipline but I often don't. The internet and all its offspring are the easy option.

If the web was taken away from me today I would...

... Probably have to go around shouting random statements at people in 140 characters or less, because I wouldn't have Twitter.

Loss of the internet would have a huge impact on my life. It would make so many things that I take for granted now a lot harder. For example, I do my food shopping online because I find it more practical. If I couldn't do that, I'd be forced to go with someone else who would have to help me shop and carry it all home.

I'd also have to go back to buying porn from the top shelf of the newsagents.

What has been your most adventurous feat in technology?

Harnessing technology to become a stand-up comedian. And I'm not just saying that to plug myself. I think that the unique way that I have used the technology to hand to my advantage is pretty clever.

I use an app called Speak It on my iPad during my act. Basically I store my jokes in the app and just tap each one when I want to say it. The iPad then speaks the joke in a very human sounding synthetic voice. Obviously, this way of doing things leaves me a bit limited in terms of audience interaction but I'm working on ways to improve that.

I'd always wanted to be a stand-up comedian, it's my dream job. I never ever expected that I'd even get to try to do it. Then when I did give it a go, I never thought it would work as well as it has. I thought people might not be able to understand me and I'd just be standing there telling jokes to myself. It just goes to show the lengths that can be reached with technology when you think outside the box a little.

How do you use social media?

Social networks are great for socialising, getting details of my gigs out to the masses and keeping in contact with my comedy peers.

I use social media quite a lot, personally and in my career. I'm on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube both as myself and as a comedian. I also have my own blog which doubles up as a website for my comedy.

YouTube is a great promotional tool for me. I've got many videos of my act up there. Of course, I also use YouTube when I'm bored and need something to watch.

I find that I'm getting more and more of my news from Twitter now, rather than relying on traditional sources. I often read about things on Twitter first and then go and find more information about them on the web. It's a fantastic resource.

I met my best friend through Twitter too.

When I started doing stand-up, I knew I would need help travelling to places for gigs, support with boarding trains, help getting dressed, that sort of thing. So I wrote a blog post, asking if anyone would be willing to give me a hand in return for a bit of cash, expenses etc. I already knew Emily a bit through Twitter but then she offered to help and we started going to my gigs together. We clicked straight away and soon became best friends. I'd be lost without her now and definitely wouldn't be able to travel as much as I do.

What tech innovation would you like to see invented?

Something that makes it even easier for me to communicate. At the moment, it still takes me a while because I have to type out what I want to say first. I'd like to have something a bit more instant. Quite often, the moment has gone by the time I'm ready to speak, or people don't give me enough time to respond. This may be because they don't understand how I communicate, which is fair enough. If there was something that could just say what I was thinking, that would be great. I'd want the option to turn it off at times though.

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