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Life After Paralysis is a blog that represents a variety of paralysis community members. It is a place for open conversation about the issues and the interests of people living with paralysis, their family, friends, caregivers, and the professionals that serve them. Comments are welcome!
 
The opinions expressed in these blogs are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation.

How Not To Train A Dragon

I like to think that I am a patient man, but sometimes my patience gets pushed to its limit. That is the situation when it comes to using voice recognition software effectively. For years I avoided using it, as it didn't seem to be as fast or as accurate as typing with the knuckle of the pinky finger on my left hand. My typing has been timed at 15 words per minute but, because it is so slow, I have been able to do my editing as I write and can save time in that manner.

As background, I am quadriplegic so have lost much of my hand function. My fingers don't open wide in order to use a keyboard in the normal manner, so using voice recognition software, even the rudimentary IBM TrueType that I tried initially, has been recommended to me for several years. TrueType required saying each word separately, which was a very slow process. Not long after I had finally started to use that software periodically, someone introduced me to DragonDictate. I was going to college at the time, as well as writing long reports for my consulting business during the day, so a program that would do the writing for me sounded perfect. Shortly thereafter, I purchased my first DragonDictate program. Then the fun began.
 
In those early days, around 20 years ago, more training was required of voice recognition programs than is needed today. I quickly discovered that I wasn't good at training, as I would rather simply get on with my work. Thus the dictation that I completed required extensive editing and rewriting, which negated all of the speed of dictation. Out of frustration I set Dragon aside and decided to wait for something better to come along. Until that happened I continued to utilize that overworked pinky finger for writing many articles about disability-related subjects as well as using it at work.
 
A few years ago I heard that Dragon, now with the words NaturallySpeaking added, was much more user-friendly. I purchased the latest software version, and it even came with a headset microphone to improve my dictation accuracy. I use a different type of microphone, with a long gooseneck that is attached to my desk, but plenty of individuals have told me that I should use the headset microphone. I wasn't about to be bound to my desk by a microphone cord, so I stuck with the gooseneck microphone in the hopes that the new edition of Dragon NaturallySpeaking would still work. After an extensive training session which included reading several nonsensical articles and much fiddling with the microphone controls before I found the right settings, it did.
 
It wasn't long after I purchased that latest and greatest dictation software that an even better, later and greater, version was released. Obviously I had to purchase that, so I did it online and had the update sent to me electronically. I saved a few dollars by not purchasing the computer disk as I figured it wouldn't be needed. Little did I know how handy that might have been when I learned that I had loaded the software improperly and failed to record the unbelievably long password that was sent to me originally.
 
After a couple of fruitless hours on a long-distance call with the software's IT representative, I once again gave up on that method of voicing dictation. In fairness, I was advised that there was a Bluetooth headset available with the latest edition of NaturallySpeaking so I wouldn't have to worry about a cord.
 
It wasn't long after that when I stumbled across something in my Windows Control Panel software list called Windows Voice Recognition. Clicking on it resulted in a dialog box opening up and, after a bit more fiddling to recognize the microphone, I found myself dictating to my computer once again. In the past year about half of my writing has benefited from some level of voice recognition. I'm not proud of that fact, as I have friends who have used that software from the beginning of their careers with great success. They command all computer operations and dictate complex reports or business correspondence with limited or no use of their hands. I admire their abilities, as I know how difficult it can be to train a computer to that level.
 
After encountering another series of dictation difficulties related to the microphone, I closed Windows Voice Recognition for the last time today and have reopened NaturallySpeaking. It has worked great for the past 30 minutes, so I consider that a victory. I hope that I can figure out how to restart it again tomorrow.

© 2014 Michael Collins | Like Mike on Facebook
Posted by Michael Collins on May 26, 2014 6:02 PM US/Eastern

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