I remember reading a book in about 1985, which was a work of fantasy. It was trying to predict how we were going to live in the middle of the next century. I don’t remember all of this but it had fanciful pictures of colonies on other planets or hover cars. Actually I do remember watching "Knight Rider" when David Hasselhoff spoke to his car and the car spoke back. Perhaps that was fiction too?
If you had told me in 1985 that by the year 2015 you could control your computer just by using your voice I would have looked at you in a very strange way. But in 2015 it’s no fantasy.
I can ask my smartphone to search the web by voice. ..amongst other things. I can ask my phone by voice to find information on the Houses of Parliament. My device will even display the Houses of Parliment on a map for me.
But strangely if I want to use Google's travel directions I have to use my hand....so it's not perfect by any means. I can also ask my phone what the weather is like in Birmingham. I can ask my phone to send a text message to my Dad………who by the way has a really old phone that just makes calls.
The only strange thing is that I need to be able to swipe my phone and press lightly on the touch screen to enable voice control, so it’s not that good for people with hand/arm difficulties where fine motor control might be an issue. It is good though for people who have dyslexia or other cognitive impairments (and yes you can get the phone to speak out to you and tell you what is on the screen!)
I have an Android phone but if you have an iPhone you can use your voice to find information via the built in Siri app. The Android app is called Evi. Now it isn’t perfect. I have a speech impediment and sometimes it gets a bit confused but on the whole it works really well and is a great resource.
So we’ve started off by discussing using voice control to search the web. Of course we get lots of calls from clients who want to use voice to produce documents. Providing you put the effort in you will get good functionality in. There aren’t any shortcuts but the time spent is well worth it.
You can dictate documents, then you can change the typeface which they are written in and then finally you can print them off. This is very useful for people with all sorts of disabilities and actually the wider population.
Some people say they that they speak more confidently then they type. If you have a digital Dictaphone you can be away from your desk , perhaps in a lecture or on a site visit and then record your notes and have them transposed into your document when you come back to your desk. This saves you time and energy too.
As you'll be aware there are lots of regional accents within the UK. Voice recognition is fairly good at being able to recognise them now but as always it is a work in progress! We'd always make the point that in most cases voice recognition can be used within an solution that also might include alternative keyboards and input devices.
Voice recognition is probably the piece of technology that is most often asked about by clients.
Here are three short case studies of people that we've spoken to recently.
Recently a Mr H. called us and wanted to know if he could use voice recognition as he had Parkinsons and found the keyboard problematic. His voice seemed to be clear when I spoke to him so we're going to get one of our volunteers out to him and take him through the enrolment process. The enrolment entails reading some text for about 5 minutes so the system can recognise your voice fairly well. If he masters this he should be able to control his computer very effectively.
A Mr K. rang us to see if we could help his daughter who was struggling to get notes down as she is dyslexic. She doesn't work at the moment and she's not in full time education. We suggested using voice recognition (which is built into all new Windows computers) and we also told him that there were some ways of helping his daughter to get enrolled on the system. For example actually telling his daughter what to say during the enrollment process by whispering text to her. We also explained how they could use a mobile phone to act as a note taker and a diary.
Robert called us yesterday. He's got Motor Neurone Disease (MND) and whilst his speech is good at the moment, he is losing muscle tone and finds using a keyboard very tiring. We suggested using voice recognition with a goose neck microphone. Whilst most people use a head microphone, for people with poor hand and arm movement it can be tiring to put on and take off where as a goose neck microphone can just be placed on a desk. Voice recognition can also be used effectively by people who have Repetitive Stress Injury (RSI).
Oh and as we're talking about microphones it is always more effective to have a USB microphone rather then a line in microphone. It will save you a lot of time and effort.
As you can see all three of these clients had different issues but voice recognition was the technology that could help them become more independent when using the computer.
How can we help?
AbilityNet provides a range of free services to help disabled people and older people.
- Call our free Helpline on 0800 269 545. Our friendly, knowledgeable staff will discuss any kind of computer problem and do their best to come up with a solution. We’re open Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm.
- Arrange a home visit. We have a network of AbilityNet ITCanHelp volunteers who can help if you have technical issues with your computer systems. They can come to your home, or help you over the phone.
- We have a range of factsheets which talk in detail about technology that might help you, which can be downloaded for free. You may find our factsheets about voice recognition and keyboard alternatives useful.
- My Computer My Way. A free interactive guide to all the accessibility features built into current desktops, laptops, tables and smartphones.