Biden admin awards $200,000 grant to create trans voice training app

"Transgender and gender diverse people exhibit a significantly lower quality of life than the general public. One reason for this is voice dysphoria: distress because a person’s voice does not match their gender identity."

Hannah Nightingale Washington DC

A transgender professor and two speech therapy experts have been awarded over $200,000 by the National Institutes of Health to research and create a "transgender voice training app" that aims, in part, to help biological males sound more feminine.

Taxpayer funds from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders awarded a team from the University of Cincinnati $213,878 to create the software.

The abstract of the study states, "Transgender and gender diverse people exhibit a significantly lower quality of life than the general public. One reason for this is voice dysphoria: distress because a person’s voice does not match their gender identity (e.g., trans women with deep voices)."

The project, titled "Improving the Accessibility of Transgender Voice Training with Visual-acoustic Biofeedback," aims to provide "accessible GAVT [gender-affirming voice and communication training]" through software on smartphones or computers "that delivers information about voice, suggests exercises, and provides feedback on exercise performance."

The project would "first develop novel GAVT software that combines visual-acoustic biofeedback about pitch and resonance (two main indicators of voice femininity/masculinity) with exercises for these targets."

According to Fox News, the research will be led by Associate Professor Vesna Novak, as well as speech scientist Victoria McKenna of UC, and speech-language pathologist Tara McAllister of New York University. 

In an announcement of the grant, McAllister said, "Some trans people can be negatively impacted if their voice is perceived as incongruous with their gender identity, and they may choose to work with a speech pathologist to achieve a vocal presentation that is comfortable for them."

"In addition to the pitch of the voice, male and female vocal tracts also differ in their resonating characteristics, but resonance is harder to understand than pitch, and harder to target in therapy. The staRt software allows learners to visualize the resonant frequencies of the vocal tract, which could make it easier to adjust them to match a target that is appropriate for their personal speech goals."

40 trans-identified males will be assigned to either a control group that uses a generic voice analysis app or an experimental group that uses the researchers’ software. They will meet remotely once per week with a speech-language pathologist for GAVT, will be assigned homework, and will self-report the amount of daily practice, self-efficacy and intrinsic motivation.

"In the long term, GAVT software may become an essential tool to reduce gender dysphoria in transgender and gender diverse individuals, thus improving quality of life for this marginalized population. Furthermore, advancements in this area may generalize to computer-aided therapy for communication disorders, increasing potential impact," the abstract concludes.

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