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Researchers Identify New Tool to Help Transgender Women Find Their Voices

Nicola Jane Chase reading a book.

Nicola Jane Chase is a transgender woman who has worked with NYU Steinhardt clinicians to find her authentic voice.

For transgender women, developing a voice that matches how they choose to present their gender identities can be a challenge. While hormone therapy and surgery can change how individuals externally present gender, altering the frequency and character of one’s voice can be a slow and challenging internal process.

A study published in the Journal of Voice by lead author Deanna Kawitzky, alum of NYU Steinhardt’s PhD in Communicative Sciences and Disorders, and Tara McAllister, an associate professor in the department, identifies a new avenue for conducting voice modification therapy for transgender women – visual-acoustic biofeedback.

When using biofeedback, bodily functions are electronically monitored and visually displayed to help an individual achieve more voluntary control of that function. In the case of voice modification therapy, visual-acoustic biofeedback can show transgender women real-time representations of their speech frequencies next to a target representing a typical cisgender female voice – while working to align these visual cues, individuals can retrain their speech patterns to match these frequencies. 

“This study suggests that biofeedback may be used as a tool to help trans women achieve a voice they are comfortable with,” Kawitzky said. “Biofeedback has not been used in this way before, and we’re excited to have identified a new direction for transgender voice therapy research.”

The study was conducted in NYU Steinhardt’s Biofeedback Intervention Technology for Speech Lab (BITS Lab)

“Speech patterns are deeply ingrained over years of experience, so change can be extremely difficult,” said McAllister, who directs the lab. “Research in BITS lab aims to understand how technology can help people make these changes in a quick and lasting way.”

The study offers a preliminary suggestion that biofeedback could also be a useful tool for the wider trans community.

Tara McAllister

Associate Professor (On Leave 2019-2020)