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Software by Young Man with Cerebral Palsy ‘Voicing’ for the Disabled

An information technology student with cerebral palsy and spasticity, along with a group of young researchers, is developing software that uses artificial intelligence to transform the speech of individuals with disabilities into natural intonation.

Chàng trai bại não làm phần mềm nói thay người khiếm khuyết - Ảnh 1.

Nguyen Duc Thuan was honored at the 2022 Vietnam Glory program – Photo: NAM TRẦN

During his high school years in Bac Ninh, 20-year-old Nguyen Duc Thuan often faced ridicule from classmates, who even physically assaulted him, mockingly calling him “”the cripple.””

“”My hope is that the software we are developing will aid people with speech difficulties like mine, making communication easier and reducing life’s challenges,”” says Nguyen Duc Thuan.

Navigating Life’s Path with Her Son

For Thuan’s mother, Do Thi Hoai, his childhood was a continuous journey of acupuncture, hydrotherapy, and massages, enabling him to attend elementary school. Thuan frequented the Central Hospital of Acupuncture in Hanoi, spending about a year in the hospital annually, with only a week’s break each month.

Initially, school was manageable with basic tasks like tracing letters. However, by third grade, Thuan’s handwriting became unreadable, sometimes even to him. He relied on memory for exams, recalling information directly during tests.

“”Once, for a math exam, it took others 50 minutes to think and 10 minutes to write, but Thuan thought for 10 minutes and spent 50 minutes writing,”” his mother recalls.

Though not extremely frail, Thuan struggled to sit steadily and walk. He could take only a couple of steps where others easily walked five. With stiff limbs and a lurching gait, he seemed on the verge of falling at any moment.

“”I just encouraged him to persevere, to overcome everyday and educational obstacles as steps toward greater achievements,”” his mother shares.

Everything changed when Thuan received an old computer, a gift from his father’s colleagues. He developed a passion for programming. Nearly every day, he and his mother traveled from their home in Que Vo district to Bac Ninh High School for the Gifted. They often returned home late at night, braving difficult weather conditions.

By 11th grade, Thuan, despite his disabilities, won third place in the national computer science competition for gifted students. With this achievement, he was granted special admission to the 12th grade at the provincial gifted school he had previously failed to enter.

“”Speaking”” for the Speech-Impaired

Thuan enjoys reading books on meditation and Buddhism, with his favorite being “”The Alchemist”” by Paulo Coelho, gifted to him by teacher Do Duc Dong. He met teacher Dong at a summer camp organized by the Central Youth Union in Can Gio, Ho Chi Minh City, several years ago.

Dr. Do Duc Dong, a lecturer in the IT Department at the University of Technology (Vietnam National University, Hanoi), notes that programming is challenging for normal people as it involves rethinking and retyping programs. For Thuan, it takes even more time, necessitating precise and clear thought before typing.

Dr. Dong guided Thuan to join a research team working on software that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to identify and assist in the conversion of speech for those with voice disabilities, under the support of Associate Professor Dr. Le Thanh Ha.

“”With his limitations, Thuan achieves what even normal people find difficult. He must possess immense determination and exceptional intelligence,”” evaluates teacher Dong.

The software aims to adjust the speech of those with non-standard pronunciation or voice disorders to sound natural, with proper intonation, instead of a monotone robotic voice. The AI system “”learns”” individual data to enhance software accuracy.

Discussing the project, Nguyen Duc Thuan explains that the AI software targets mute, deaf people, and those with speech problems. The team continues to refine the research for integration into smart devices like phones and computers.

To realize this project, Nguyen Duc Thuan has been improving his foreign language skills to access AI and advanced programming knowledge. The team is currently focused on recreating the voice and intonation of mute people and those with unclear or disordered speech common among the elderly and disabled.

After researching, Thuan found that while similar software for English exists abroad, it is not available for Vietnamese. “”Due to the diverse intonations and regional accents in Vietnamese, and the lack of data, AI struggles to differentiate similarly sounding words. Our team is continually refining our research to improve this aspect,”” Thuan shares.

Vietnam Glory Honors Nguyen Duc Thuan

At the 2022 Vietnam Glory program held in Hanoi on September 10, Nguyen Duc Thuan, a student at the University of Technology (Vietnam National University, Hanoi), was among six individuals honored for their exceptional contributions.
In addition to his achievements in information technology, Nguyen Duc Thuan’s accolades include winning the first prize in the National Youth Computer Contest 2020, second place in the National Computer Science Olympiad 2021, and being one of the 15 students representing Vietnam in the Asian-Pacific Computer Olympiad 2021.

(Source: Tuổi Trẻ Newspaper)

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