With Dyslexia Awareness Week 2017 approaching in October, it is worth bearing in mind that earlier this autumn, few students and employees with dyslexia relished the end of the summer holidays and their inevitable return to school, college, university or work. It can be an anxious time for them, mindful that dyslexia can hamper their ability to share their ideas, knowledge and enthusiasm for a subject or topic, if they have to read or write about it.
Of all the learning difficulties facing people with dyslexia, it is reading and writing that proves to be the most demanding. The challenge to read effectively and efficiently can potentially have an adverse educational, professional and psychological effect on this group, and possibly negatively impact their views on schooling and education from an early age.
Removing the communication barriers
For many people with dyslexia, speech recognition solutions like Dragon from Nuance Communications, is a transformative solution. Speech recognition uses the human voice as the main interface between the user and computer. While relatively simple to use, speech recognition software is highly sophisticated technology that leverages “language modelling” to recognise and differentiate among the millions of human utterances that make up any language.
Today, Dragon achieves 99 per cent recognition accuracy right from the first use, benefitting many individuals with accessibility issues, from carpal tunnel and Repetitive Strain Injuries (RSI) to learning disabilities. They face unique challenges when it comes to using a computer because the keyboard and mouse can be a barrier, not to mention a cause of pain and frustration. By taking away the mechanical aspects of typing, they have a less physically and cognitively taxing way to interact with the computer, making it easier and more comfortable to use. They can work hands-free and talk to create documents, send email and search and browse the internet, and control their computer by voice.
For people with dyslexia specifically, the keyboard is often a barrier that inhibits thoughts and ideas – which would flow eloquently when spoken – from being documented effectively. Those thoughts and ideas often end up lost through the process of typing. By removing the barrier, frustration is quickly turned into accomplishment, so students can focus on their thoughts and get them ‘on paper’ simply by speaking.
Through dedicated study and research, however, great advances have been made in understanding dyslexia, how it affects individuals and what needs to be done to provide support for those individuals from an early age. For many students with dyslexia, the increase of PCs in learning environments has benefitted them by accelerating the delivery of an equal learning environment. When supported by a raft of assistive aids like document readers, screen readers and speech recognition technology like the Dragon family, people with dyslexia can enjoy all of the information sharing, communication and publishing offered by today’s PCs, laptops and other connected devices, and from an earlier age.
Making life easier
Speech recognition is remarkable for its transformative assistive qualities is desktop speech. Although it is not a new technology or concept – in fact, Dragon is 20 years old this year! - its accuracy and ease of use has improved dramatically in the last few years, as indeed has its ubiquity. Today, speech technology can be found in products as diverse as Smartphones, Smart TVs, in cars and in healthcare applications, while it is increasingly a core component in the growing number of virtual assistants.
Today, Dragon’s core speech recognition innovation is at the heart of so many solutions from Nuance – ranging from automotive, healthcare, enterprise customer care and a wide range of speech recognition capabilities for the rapidly emerging Internet of Things. The technology set forth an evolution where even twenty years ago it was thought to be the start of where you could use your voice to finally set your VCR correctly or tell your microwave to not burn your popcorn. For those of you born around the same time as Dragon – yes, we had microwaves, and no, we’re not misspelling DVR – which now thanks to our Smart Home and TV solutions inspired by Dragon you can actually talk to, and find virtually any movie from any genre.
In the case of Dragon, the technology’s trump card for all users – whether they are affected by dyslexia or not – is its ease of use. Talking to a PC or Mac is, for many, a far easier and a more fluid and natural process than typing and using the keyboard and mouse.
Correction made simple
Perhaps one of the most valuable functions that the technology offers users with dyslexia is that, in addition to speech recognition, it also offers the ability to read text aloud. This makes it far easier for them to identify errors and correct their work quickly, to ensure that they’re submitting work for review that’s free from the spelling or grammar errors that used to detract from the quality of their written work in the past.
Technology that changes lives
Perhaps the most compelling case for using speech recognition comes from users like Law student Erin Winkles. She states that before using it, she was “always bottom of the class”. Her academic performance has been transformed now, however. She explains: “Since using it, my life has changed. I’m number one in my class and I think Dragon is the reason for this. It helps me put my thoughts down in a more coherent manner. I think it is wonderful and it helped me reach the top of the class.”
So, what do the next twenty years have in store? Nuance’s voice and language technologies will undoubtedly be at the heart of the world’s next generation applications and solutions and continue to define how we interact with the world around us – by voice. Of course, for people with dyslexia, it is an all-year round challenge, and Dyslexia Awareness Week 2017 exists to highlight that. With that in mind, it could be time to start thinking about the services and solutions you can offer either to education or business customers to serve any dyslexia needs they may have both now, and in the future.
Alistair Robbie, UK Marketing Manager, Nuance
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