We have letters to send, papers to publish, and novels to compose. Yet as we grow older, these once simple tasks may become difficult. Fortunately, with the aid of technology and a willingness to learn, anyone- no matter what their disability- can speak their mind.
The function of assistive technology is to help us perform tasks, increase our independence, and enhance the quality of our lives. Whether we need to create a document, ascend a four-story building, or knit a blouse, assistive technologies may be a vital resource.
Voice Recognition Systems (VRSs) are just one development in assistive technology. VRSs allow us to dictate to computers via speech rather than keyboard. Some of us have difficulty operating a standard keyboard. Firstly, conditions such as arthritis and strokes reduce the strength and dexterity of our fingers. Secondly, conditions such as cataracts and macular degeneration may impair our vision. Finally, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and other repetitive strain injuries may prevent us from typing for substantial lengths of time. However, with the addition of a VRS, the clumsy keyboard taunts us no more. Now through the pure power of speech, we can write to our children, publish our reports, and finish our novel.
By merely speaking into a microphone, we control both command and text functions. VRSs require hardware (such as a headset or microphone) and software (such as the speech recognition program and dictionary). Conveniently, most VRS packages include everything you’ll need to run their product. All you need is a computer. What kind of computer? Presently, VRSs are available for both IBM compatible PCs and Apple computers.
Once installed, VRSs are extremely versatile. For example, by combining a VRS with an environment control unit, we can control lighting, temperature, and our appliances with vocal commands. Thus, once we set up a VRS we can do almost anything. But first we must choose which system suits our needs.
After a few hours of thorough training exercises, Speaker Dependent systems become familiar with your voice. Training exercises may consist of repeating various words and phrases several times. After this training period, your system is ready for use.
Speaker Independent systems require no training period; once they’re installed, they’re ready for use. Thus, these systems are more user-ready. However, Speaker Independent systems are less user-sensitive. Since they have not adapted to your individual voice, they are more susceptible to mishearing you than Speaker Dependent systems.
Command & Control systems are primarily designed for simple command functions such as opening documents or programs. Thus, the user still depends upon his or her keyboard for writing documents.
Continuous Speech Input systems are more advanced than Command & Control systems. They possess a vocabulary of around 2000 words and do not require the user to pause between words. Yet due to the complexity of the programming, the user cannot add words to their system’s vocabulary. Thus, these systems are not effective for dictating complicated documents. However, Continuous Speech Input systems allow for quick access to specific functions and programs found, for example, in Microsoft Windows. In addition, Continuous Speech Input systems are useful when creating documents sensitive to this system’s limited vocabulary.
Discrete Speech Input systems are designed for both command functions and document writing. Some models can retain a vocabulary of over 50,000 words, and the user is able to personally craft that vocabulary. However, in order for these systems to distinguish “brigand” from “brig and,” one must pause between words. Thus, these systems are slower than Continuous Speech Input systems. Although this may seem distracting, many models can dictate over 80 words per minute- can you? Therefore, these systems are best for people who cannot type but need to create documents.
Although Natural Speech Input systems do not yet exist, they will soon be a reality. These systems will combine the sensitivity of Speaker Dependent systems, the speed of Continuous Speech systems, and the word capacity of Discrete Speech Systems to create the most efficient input device. Soon, both dictation and command functions will be as easy as saying “pie.”
Already, business executives, lawyers, doctors, designers, writers, programmers, and other professionals are finding this technology priceless. One university researcher enthusiastically admits that he no longer wastes time and energy hunting and pecking at his keyboard. Furthermore, an Attorney at Law proudly says that his VRS is the talk of the town among his neighborhood law firms. However, VRSs are not just for the office. If we are not able to use a keyboard, mouse, or other input device, chances are a VRS is our solution.
Best of all, VRSs are improving and becoming more affordable everyday. Over the next couple decades, we should see the emergence of Natural Speech Input systems. And due to intense competition, prices continue to drop.
So if our hands ache, our eyes are tired, or we just can’t stomach that klutz of a keyboard, what are we waiting for? Our children wait by the mailbox, our research needs publishing, and our novel cries for completion. The bottom line is: we have some talking to do, but let’s do ourselves a favor– let the computer do the typing.
So how do we get them? Well, I’m said to say that our neighborhood computer store will probably not carry VRSs for some time. But all is not lost. You may contact Project Link, our direct mail information service that brings consumers and assistive product manufacturers together at:
Center for Assistive Technology
515 Kimball Tower
University at Buffalo
3435 Main Street
Buffalo, NY 14214-9980
You may also utilize the services of the “Technology Related Assistance Act”– known as the Tech Act Program. This program, funded by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR), primarily aims to increase public awareness of funding for assistive technology devices and services. The Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America (RESNA) is a product of the Tech Act Program. RESNA assists assistive technology-based institutions by helping each develop a comprehensive, consumer responsive program that addresses all ages and all disabilities. RESNA may be contacted at:
1700 North Moore Street, Suite 1540
Arlington, VA 22209-1903
(703) 524-6630 (FAX)
You may also contact the following companies:
21st Century Eloquence Inc.
205 Worth Avenue, #201
Palm Beach, FL 33480
(407) 835-4901 (FAX)
Dragon Systems Inc.
320 Nevada Street
Newton, MA 02160
(617) 527-0372 (FAX)
Special Needs Systems
PO Box 1328, Internal Zip 5432
Boca Raton, FL 33432
(407) 982-6059 (FAX)
120 Eglinton Avenue East
Toronto, ON M4P 1E2
(416) 322-7427 (FAX)
Kurzweil Applied Intelligence Inc.
411 Waverly Oaks Road
Waltham, MA 02154