By Kelly Dilda
For ECU News Services
Stuttering treatment pioneer Dr. Joseph S. Kalinowski of East Carolina University’s Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders is among 168 individuals to be named this year as fellows of the National Academy of Inventors.
Election to the academy’s fellow status recognizes academic inventors who, according to their peers, have demonstrated a prolific spirit of innovation in creating or facilitating outstanding inventions that impact quality of life, economic development and the welfare of society.
Kalinowski holds seven U.S. and 18 international patents, three of which have been licensed to start-up companies. His most notable patents relate to treatments for stuttering and other fluency disorders. Janus Development Group, a North Carolina coproration that specializes in assistive living devices, has licensed these patents for developing products and services.
In addition, one patent is the subject of new computer applications to assist a subset of stutterers who struggle with silent block – caused when vocal muscle contractions are so severe a person is unable to make any sound when trying to speak. Another has been licensed to start-up company Reading Comprehension Solutions for development of products and services that improve reading comprehension of students and adults.
Kalinowski’s passion for helping people with communication disorders grew out of his own childhood experiences.
“I was a severe stutterer as a child but noticed that I was totally and immediately fluent when reciting the ‘Pledge of Allegiance,’ or during unison prayer in church,” said Kalinowski. “It seemed strange to me that something that was so debilitating and despairing could be eliminated when others said the same material at the same time. Choral or unison speech are rare events in our daily lives but those respites from severe stuttering were cherished.”
During the five years Kalinowski attended the University of Connecticut as an undergraduate student, he never spoke in class. He was also excused from group presentations, and job interviews were “immensely painful.”
He was drawn to graduate school to learn more about stuttering and earned a Ph.D. in Speech Pathology. After landing his first job with Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, he learned of a colleague’s interest in Delayed Auditory Feedback (DAF).
Developed in the 1950s, DAF technology extended the time between the user’s speech and their auditory perception that speech. The user spoke into a device with a microphone and then heard his voice in headphones a fraction of a second later. The delay resulted in slower speech, which was thought to reduce stuttering.
Kalinowski worked on refining that technology to make speech sounds easier to manipulate. “I tried it on myself and our group had a ‘eureka’ moment,” he said. “I could speak as fast as I wanted and still be fluent.”
Then Kalinowski came to ECU in 1995 and began collaborating with colleagues Drs. Andrew Stuart and Michael Rastatter, which resulted in the development of SpeechEasy, a popular DAF device that fits inconspicuously inside the ear.
“We weren’t even thinking about building a device when we started collaborating,” said Stuart, noting that it was a natural progression from the powerful effects of altered feedback and participant demand to have something they could take away from the lab.
“With the work of Dr. Kalinowski, a new method of treating fluency disorders – such as stuttering – brings the best and brightest students to the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders so they can be at the cutting edge of new technology and transform the care for future patients,” said Marti Van Scott, director of ECU’s Office of Technology Transfer.
Kalinowski said the team continues its work on applications to help stutterers and others with communication disorders. “There is much more to be done,” he said. “Some will be done by us but most will be done by our students until stuttering no longer exists.
“People in stuttering are passionate about their work,” he added. “We may differ in our scientific opinions but we are working so children and adults can live full lives.”
“Many things are coming together that have ECU on the verge of an innovation and entrepreneurial ecosystem explosion that will not only benefit the institution and its students, but also the region,” said Van Scott. “Dr. Kalinowski and his co-inventors are excellent examples of faculty who push the limits of innovation and discovery to benefit the people of eastern North Carolina and beyond.”
Founded in 2010, the National Academy of Inventors is a non-profit member organization comprised of U.S. and international universities, and governmental and non-profit research institutions, with over 3,000 individual inventor members and fellows spanning more than 200 institutions.