York & North Yorkshire

Motor neurone disease man given Yorkshire voice

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Media captionMotor neurone sufferer Jason Liversidge trials Yorkshire voice

A man with motor neurone disease (MND) is creating a voice synthesiser with a Yorkshire accent to help him keep his identity when he can no longer speak.

Jason Liversidge, 41, originally from Scarborough, North Yorkshire, was diagnosed with MND in 2013 and knows one day he will not be able to talk.

The condition affects cells that control muscle activity including for walking, swallowing and talking.

About 30 Yorkshiremen were needed to program a voice for Mr Liversidge.

As the condition progresses, he can use a voice synthesiser similar to the one famously used by physicist Prof Stephen Hawking - but Mr Liversidge wanted to make sure it sounded more like his own voice.

Mr Liversidge, who now lives in Rise near Hornsea, East Yorkshire, said: "One of the worst things is my brain knows exactly what I want to say and I go to say it, because the muscles don't work as well as they used to I'm like, stuttering."

Image caption He is still able to drive an adapted vehicle and takes his daughters to school each day

He added: "I would like to keep a form of identity. I don't just want to be a programmed voice on a computer. Also, for the kids and Liz, I want the voice not to be a computer one."

He is being helped by a Edinburgh research centre the Anne Rowling Clinic, which specialises in degenerative diseases.

The centre, set up by Harry Potter author JK Rowling whose mother was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, is running a project which is trying to create personal synthetic voices, called Speak:Unique.

Mr Liversidge's speech is already starting to slur, but scientists aimed to "repair" the flaws in it with the aid of donors.

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Media caption"This voice will make the world of difference, as it is me" - Jason Liversidge

The process involved finding people with a similar accent to read 400 phrases on to a computer, which were then banked and broken down into sounds to recreate any word.

Dr Phillipa Rewaj, who is working on the project, said: "Rather than trying to record every single word in the dictionary, we capture all those sounds so that we can use them in any other word in which they occur.

"Your voice is as identifiable to other people as your face is, it is very unique to you, so being able to preserve that I think is very important to people."

Image caption The couple, who have two daughters, Lilly and Poppy, are focusing on making memories for the future

She used a video of a speech Mr Liversidge made at his sister's wedding as a benchmark, and needed 20 to 30 "donors" to fill in the gaps.

His wife, Liz Liversidge, said they were trying as a family to ensure they do as much together now as possible, as she knows the condition is life-limiting.

"It's really important for us that we try and get out and about with the girls and make as many memories as possible," she said.

"We're trying to compile as many videos and photographs as possible, so later on when Jason is no longer here they have something to remember him by."

The "new" voice created by the clinic is controlled by Mr Liversidge using eye movements, focusing on letters to type out what he wants to say.

The couple are trying to keep family life as "normal" as possible - Mr Liversidge is still able to drive so he can do the school run and join his family on days out.

Despite this, Mrs Liversidge said it was the "constant progression" of the condition that they have found hard. "He's not even able to pick the girls up and give them a cuddle," she said.

Nearly all the voices the clinic has worked on since it opened in 2011 have been Scottish, and Mr Liversidge's is the first Yorkshire accent.

Watch the full report on Inside Out Yorkshire and Lincolnshire on BBC One at 19:30 on Monday 6 February or via the BBC iPlayer for seven days after the initial broadcast.

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