Apple’s ‘The Lost Voice’ Touches Hearts & Celebrates Disabled Autonomy

“Disability communities are very mindful of proxy voices speaking on our behalf,” says Tristram Ingham.“Historically, providers have spoken for disabled people, families have spoken for disabled people.”

These are the words of an advocate — someone who has dedicated their life and career to thinking deeply about the systems that keep disabled people down. And so it’s remarkable that in fact, these are the words of an actor from a brand campaign. I’m talking about The Lost Voice, the newest clip from Apple’s Marcom division, centered on their latest accessibility features, and directed by the Academy Award-winning filmmaker and actor Taika Waititi.

With disability communities around the world bracing themselves for International Day of Persons with Disabilities this Sunday, December 3 — the UN-designated observance which like many global observances has potential to bring as much cringe as awareness into the world — we’ve been gifted another short film from Apple. The company wowed viewers and swept awards shows last year with their December campaign, The Greatest, and this year they’ve released something completely different, albeit equally powerful in its portrayal of the universal message of the critical, life-altering promise of accessible technology in our world.

The captivating world is designed to showcase the innovative accessibility features of Apple devices, in particular the introduction of Personal Voice in iOS17, a groundbreaking feature that enables users to preserve and recreate their unique voice using advanced machine learning technologies.

Personal Voice addresses a critical need for millions globally who face the risk of losing their ability to speak due to various medical conditions, such as muscular dystrophy or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). By sampling a user’s voice, this feature empowers them to continue communicating using their own voice through Apple devices like iPhone, iPad, or Mac, even if they lose their natural speaking ability.

The film, deeply touching and narratively engaging, follows the journey of a young girl and her charming pink, floppy-eared furry companion in their quest to find his lost voice. This story culminates in an emotionally rich moment between a father (played by the aforementioned Tristram Ingham) and daughter, uniquely highlighting the transformative impact of Personal Voice.

In a move that showcases the authenticity of the message, the film features Ingham is an actual user of Personal Voice. Dr. Ingham is a physician, epidemiologist, and disability advocate from Wellington, New Zealand, who lives with facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy (FSHD). His participation not only lends credibility to the narrative but also demonstrates the real-life benefits of Personal Voice technology. Ingham’s life story and accomplishment is compelling and beautiful on its own and he’s a perfect pick for an unconventional narrator.

To create the film’s narration, Dr. Ingham used his own Personal Voice, generated on an iPhone. This involved recording multiple phrases which were then processed to produce a voice that reads the story’s lines — something anyone with a newer iPhone can do, today, in the settings app on their device. The resulting voiceover effectively showcases a practical application of Personal Voice technology and seemingly feels more and more natural as the film draws to a close to reveal Ingham reading a children’s storybook by typing into his device.

Adding to the film’s artistic appeal is its musical score, featuring an avant-garde track titled “Yodeler” by X Carbon, a duo known for their innovative use of human voice samples. The track was specifically adapted to align with the film’s whimsical tone.

In a surprise move, the story portrayed in the film extends beyond the screen, as Apple has also released a real storybook (available as a free downloadable ebook) mirroring the film’s narrative. This book is available for free on Apple Books, allowing audiences to engage with the story in multiple formats.

In addition to all this, the film showcases the stunning natural beauty of New Zealand and, an adorable assortment of characters,puppets and special effects — not to mention the cuddly hero creature inspired by Dr. Ingham himself. “The Lost Voice” is available on YouTube and Apple’s website (with an audio described version), along with a how-to video on Personal Voice and Live Speech.

Through this film and the accompanying book, Apple aims to highlight the importance of voice and communication, demonstrating its commitment to accessibility and innovation in technology. In a time when disabled talent is often pushed aside and campaigns often fall short of true, disability-led representation, Apple’s offering stands apart from the rest, and the company’s efforts deeply resonate with the meaning and intent of International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

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