Voice input to a computer

I have had several people ask about voice-input for a computer, to solve the problem of students who don’t have good keyboarding skills or an inability to coordinate their hands sufficiently to manipulate the keyboard. Here is my limited experience with one program:

1. I bought an application called Dragon Naturally Speaking for about $80.00 at Staples. The program comes in three flavors; I got the “standard” version which lies in the middle of the price range and capability.

This is software which comes with a headset (microphone and headphone). The software sits “between” the operating system (i.e. Windows) and the application that you are working with. The version I got works with Microsoft Word, Excel, OutLook Express, and Internet Explorer.

2. I installed this without problems on a Pentium 450Mhz machine.

3. The software adjusts itself to your own voice, that is, you must “train” the software to recognize your voice. Accuracy improves with training.

4. I played with this for a couple of hours, using Microsoft Word. The accuracy was quite good; I would say maybe 90%. The software also accepts commands like “Open File”, and “Save File” and it is indeed somewhat amazing to see the screen change as these things are accomplished on command.

5. The software is not terribly adaptable to non-mainstream applications. If you want it to work with WordPerfect, or WordStar it most probably won’t.

6. They include a “mini-word processor” as part of the package which is optimized for the voice input. It might be possible to enter the bulk of your text that way, and then copy or insert it into your word processor of choice for further editing.

7. Response time was adequate but not snappy. I’m sure with a faster machine (like the IBMs) it would improve.

8. The software stated requirements are a Pentium 400 processor and any version of Windows.

9. Clearly the software must be optimized for the speaker. It isn’t something that you can sit down in front of and play for a few minutes and be productive. For students that are strongly keyboard- challenged, however, and who have full control of their ability to speak, this might be an interesting thing to try out.

10. The program will also read text back.

11. Windows 2000 and Windows XP will already read text, and there are several other “adaptable” modifications that are built in to Windows. For example there is a thing that enlarges text on the screen. There are also ways to modify the response of the keyboard so if you have someone who can only type with one hand, for example, the shift keys can become “sticky”.

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