To mark International Day of Persons with Disabilities on December 3, Apple has launched a new campaign centring its latest voice technologies and the ways in which they can serve people who have limited or no speech.
The campaign film is directed by Taika Waititi, who uses a bedtime story as the lens through which to illustrate its message. The young protagonist has lost her voice, so a cuddly woodland creature offers to help her find it, encountering plenty of real landscapes in New Zealand and many unreal characters along the way. The ad’s soundtrack, an adapted version of X Carbon’s Yodeler, uses human vocal samples to striking effect.
The story’s father figure is played by physician, professor, and disability advocate, Dr Tristram Ingham, who narrates the ad using Apple’s Personal Voice functionality.
The secure feature is designed to allow people to preserve their voice as it is now by recording prompt phrases, which are then processed using neural networks to create a kind of sonic portrait of a person’s voice. Their voice can then be reproduced in the future on Apple devices using the Live Speech function. These technologies can be used in conjunction with other Apple features that allow people to interact with their devices without physically touching them, as well as system voices for those who may have already lost their speech.
“I’ve got three grandchildren. I love to read them bedtime stories,” said Ingham, who has facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy (FSHD), a degenerative condition that can lead to speech loss. “They come and stay the night quite often, and they love stories about sea creatures, tsunamis, things like that. And I just want to be able to ensure that I can keep doing that into the future.”
“Disability communities are very mindful of proxy voices speaking on our behalf,” Ingham also said. “Historically, providers have spoken for disabled people, family have spoken for disabled people. If technology can allow a voice to be preserved and maintained, that’s autonomy, that’s self-determination.”
The storybook created for the ad has also been recreated for real as an illustrated ebook.