With Dyslexia Awareness Week 2014 approaching in November, it puts a spotlight on the reading and writing challenges faced by people in business who have dyslexia, or far more severe and debilitating conditions. As a Disability Needs Assessor, I carry out assessments for full and part-time students who have been granted a Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA).
I am also an Assistive Software Trainer, dividing my time conducting assessments at Cardiff, Swansea and The Open University (OU) and training OU students on assistive technology. The people I have assessed range in age and have a wide range of conditions spanning from specific learning difficulties (e.g. dyspraxia and dyslexia) to medical conditions and mental health. I estimate that I assess up to 120 people a year and train approximately 50 of them.
Of the students I assess at the brick-built universities, about 80- or 90% have a specific learning difficulty such as dyslexia or dyspraxia. They can range from an anxious 17 year-old who had not attended school for many years due to his condition, to a 74-year-old studying law because it was something he always wanted to do.
There’s no doubt that today’s desktop speech recognition technology for PCs continues to help many of the people I meet, giving them equal opportunities in the workplace in order to perform at their best. For many people, there’s no doubt that new technology is helping to unlock previously closed doors both in education and in the workplace.
Painting A Picture
During an assessment, if a student has not heard of desktop speech recognition or seen it in operation, before demonstrating it I often introduce them to its benefits by creating a personal scenario for them, so that they can visualise how the technology will aid them.
For instance, if a someone has a back problem and has difficulty sitting at a workstation for too long before having to get up and move around due to pain, I explain that, with the wireless version of desktop speech software, he can stand up, walk around and still dictate. By creating this kind of scenario and outlining some of the basic principles of the technology before demonstrating it, I can give them a good idea about how easy it is to use and how it will benefit them.
Life After Training
Although I do not see students post-training, I do however often hear success stories. I once assessed a 70-year-old who had pain in his wrists due to dystonia and this impacted on the amount of work he could produce using a keyboard/mouse input method. I recommended speech recognition as a strategy for him. Once my recommendation had been approved by the finance body, I re-visited him and carried out the training.
Some months later I received an email from him thanking me for my support and telling me how much the technology had changed his life. In his email, he told me that not only had he submitted his first essay to the Open University but he had done it all using speech recognition. He even created the email using speech recognition technology.
The Route To Independence
Today’s speech recognition technology can even benefit people with heavy accents. I assessed a quadriplegic who was starting a part-time degree in Spanish with The OU. I introduced him to the idea of using speech recognition to aid him in producing written work more easily – previously he was using his knuckles to access the keyboard. Understandably, the suggestion of this greatly improved strategy for producing work excited him.
We agreed on him using the Spanish-language version of the software. When I went to his home to commence training on the recommended software, it was speech recognition technology that he wanted to try first. During training – and even with his very strong Welsh accent – he was able to dictate a large paragraph in Spanish without one recognition error. The software has changed this his life and has given him back some independence and enabled him to become more proficient in producing essays as part of his studies.
Speech Today Challenges Yesterday’s Perceptions
I always tell people that speech technology has been on a long road to improvement and it has come a long way in the last five years. I explain that it has improved greatly and that I have a long list of success stories that prove that speech recognitions works and can change their lives. I am confident that it can be recommended to anyone – students or employees – who, for whatever reason, struggles with a keyboard and mouse, not just during Dyslexia Awareness Week, but all year around.