Assistive technology is one way that students with disabilities can mitigate their challenges in an education system. Often what is used as assistive technology was not created specifically for students with disabilities. Speech-to-text technology was originally created as a productivity tool commonly used by executives, lawyers, doctors, etc. The most common commercial product is Dragon Naturally Speaking. Dragon can also be used by people who have low vision or who are blind.
As voice recognition software improves, new applications are released. I am using a free online application that uses Google voice recognition technology to write this blog post for the nine by nine by twenty-five challenge. You can try it out for yourself as long as you have a microphone. I would recommend using a headset with a microphone for better accuracy.
Having used Dragon Naturally Speaking for several years and completed various training sessions to help Dragon understand my speech I am surprised that no training was required with this software. So far, it has missed only one word and my only other complaint is the extra space before the period and the lack of capitals on the first word of sentences that I will need to fix. I am an excellent typist. I can type over 80 words per minute but with Dragon or other speech-to-text technology I can produce content as fast as I can speak, and I can speak very fast.
Some students with learning disabilities will use speech-to-text technology to produce all their written work including papers and assignments. Other students will have the speech-to-text software running in the background but will only use it for words that they can pronounce but not spell. When a student with a learning disability has difficulty with spelling they’re often not able to express their thoughts and ideas fully and will rely on simpler language that they are confident they can spell. With technology like speech-to-text. they can more fully demonstrate their knowledge and understanding using more complex language and sentence structure. From the point of view of learning outcomes, if the goal is to produce a well-written document, it should not matter to the professor if this was created by typing or using software.
There’s some other interesting ways you can use speech-to-text technology in terms of productivity. For example, I can record my voice on a tape recorder or using the computer to create an MP3 file and later run that file through Dragon to create the text. I have also used this technology after creating videos for online learning. I take the video, strip out just the audio, and run that through Dragon. It creates a text document that I can then use as a transcript and convert into closed captioning to make my video more accessible.
When using text-to-speech technology, you do have to learn some techniques order to control the formatting. And you do need to be able to speak your ideas in full thoughts and sentences which can be a little awkward at first. I take on the persona of a newscaster and try to articulate my words well so that the technology will be more accurate. I also find using this technology has helped me with removing some of the speech fillers that often come up when articulating ideas outload. Because the technology will attempt to add any Umms or Hmmms that I may have in my speech, using this technology has been a good way to remove those. I also find that rather than speaking one word at a time if I can use more natural phrases, the technology more accurate in its transcription.
Assistive technology is not something to be afraid of. It can be an awesome support for students with disabilities, professionals in the workplace, and even time limited professors and educators. as the technology continues to improve, I believe we will find it integrated into more software and more applications and that learning to use the software will be an advantage students in their education and later, in the workplace.