Lost Voice Guy
Lee Ridley, known as ‘Lost Voice Guy’, is the first comedian to win Britain’s Got Talent… and also the first communication aid user to win! Lost Voice Guy may not “speak”, but he certainly has a voice – sharing his experiences of cerebral palsy and communication aid use in his comedy, and discussing the representation of disabled people in the media.
This may be one of the first times you’ve seen a communication aid used by someone in the public eye – apart from Stephen Hawking. Lee Ridley’s BBC Radio 4 sitcom ‘Ability’ amusingly shows just how frequently he hears that comparison, as people’s only cultural reference point for someone who uses a communication aid. You might therefore be surprised that around one in two hundred people use some form of aid to help them communicate (also called “augmentative and alternative communication”, or AAC) (Blackstone 1990). Lee Ridley, and American sitcom “Speechless”, may be the first tentative steps towards more accurate media representation.
Apart from Lost Voice Guy who needs a communication aid, and why?
Communication aids, or AAC, are used by children and adults who have difficulty using spoken language (and sometimes with understanding language too) for a wide range of reasons. Some will have needed additional methods of communication from childhood, such as those with cerebral palsy, autism, or many other developmental or learning disabilities. Others may need to use additional methods to communicate following a brain injury, stroke, cancer, or a neurological disease such as Motor Neurone Disease. These are just some of the causes of communication difficulties, and having one of these diagnoses does not mean that person will definitely require a communication aid.
The potential power of a communication aid is immense:
“My aid has enabled me to live independently in my own home, employ my own care staff, set up my own business (self-employed), earn enough to come off means-tested benefits, earn enough to buy my next new AAC device soon.”
Scope’s “No voice, no choice” Communication Aids Survey respondent, 2007
Always so technologically advanced?
Not at all… AAC, or communication aids, are anything ‘extra’ that helps communication.
We don’t just communicate using spoken words. Watch just a few of Lost Voice Guy’s videos and you’ll see a wealth of facial expressions, gestures, not to mention comic timing. All this would be lost if you were just listening to the voice synthesiser only. Communication aids are frequently used alongside speech, gestures or signing. Speech and Language Therapists sometimes refer to this as ‘total communication’, supporting the person to use a wide range of communication methods to get their message across in the best way possible for the person and situation. In the BGT final, Lost Voice Guy made a joke out of how cumbersome communication aid use can be, by typing a response ‘good’ to David Walliams over the course of a comic 20 seconds (complete with ‘thinking’ pause and gesture). Sometimes a simple ‘thumbs up’ is all that’s needed to get the message across!
A communication aid may consist of:
- a gesture or signing system (such as Makaton or BSL, see our article for more info this area)
- a symbol or picture-based system, mounted on a board, or in a book
- alphabet or word boards or books
- typing based systems (such as the Lightwriter system used by Lee Ridley)
- A mix of some or all of the above!
Communication aids can be controlled by pointing, using a keyboard or switches, or even small head or eye movements. A person’s literacy skills and physical skills will be taken into account when considering what methods of communication will work best for them.
This clip shows the teens from sitcom “Speechless” demo-ing two different types (pointing with a headlight to a word board for someone to read vs. a computer system operated by eye movements), and discussing some of the pros and cons of different communication aids.
As personal as any method of communication
The way we talk is highly individual – from our accent and tone of voice, to the words, phrases and expressions we commonly use. A communication aid should be as personal as this – an adult communication aid user will need a very different vocabulary to a child so they can join in with social chit-chat (“Kanye West” being a crucial omission from Lee Ridley’s http://lostvoiceguy.com/radioshowreel/), before you consider the specialised vocabulary an adult communication aid user might need in the workplace.
An accent is also a highly personal thing, Stephen Hawking was reluctant to change his when technological advances made it possible, saying “It has become my trademark and I wouldn’t change it for a more natural voice with a British accent.” However, Lee Ridley is not as attached to his, saying he’s going to spend some of his winnings on a Geordie accent for his communication aid so he doesn’t sound like ‘a posh version of Robocop’.
If this blog has inspired you to find out more about AAC, you could start by reading some of the personal experiences of using AAC here: http://www.everyonecommunicates.org/stories/individualstories.html
But let’s leave the last word to Lost Voice Guy. Whilst this article celebrates the empowering nature of communication aids, the communication aid is not the star of this story, it’s Lee Ridley and his hilarious comedy:
“When I am performing, it’s as if I have finally found my voice – and it’s a great feeling making people laugh.”
Written by Alys Mathers, Speech and Language Therapist