Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Say What? Choose the Speech Recognition Software That’s Right for You

wheelchair at computerby Katrina Gearhart

Speech recognition software is a powerful technology that lets people use their voice to control computer functions and dictate text. It can be beneficial to people with a variety of disabilities. People who cannot use a standard keyboard and mouse, for example, can use their voice to navigate the computer and create documents. People with certain learning disabilities may find it a useful support for spelling and writing. Individuals with speech impairments may use the software as a therapeutic tool to improve vocal quality. People with overuse or repetitive stress injuries also may benefit from using the technology to operate their computers hands free. What’s more, speech recognition software is affordable, ranging in price from free to about $200, depending on the program.

Not all programs are alike, however. Some are for PCs only, some are designed for people with specific disabilities, and each offers unique features. If you’re considering speech recognition software, here’s what you should know about four popular programs.

1) Dragon Naturally Speaking by Nuance is considered by many to be the cream of the crop among speech recognition programs. It has it all: multiple training options depending on the user’s age and ability, voice editing, speech playback, navigation commands, and more. Dragon Naturally Speaking also offers a variety of price options and versions, from basic to advanced. It works on PC computers only.

2) PC computers with Windows Vista have a free, built-in speech recognition program that offers voice editing and navigation commands. There’s a training tutorial, but it includes only one text option to train the computer to recognize the user’s voice. For students who struggle with reading, it may be helpful to have someone present during training to help with difficult words in the text.

3) SpeakQ by Quillsoft is another PC option. Designed specifically for students with learning disabilities, it offers unique features. First, it can be paired with word prediction, so the student can identify the correct word or sentence from a list before entering it into the word processing document. No speech recognition program is 100 percent accurate, so this feature helps students control what is entered into their document through direct selection and limits frustrations associated with inaccurate recognitions. It also comes with a text-to-speech option for playback. SpeakQ uses the same recognition software that comes with Vista.

4) MacSpeech Dictate is one option for Mac users. With the most recent upgrade in May 2009, users can now control the mouse by speaking, train the program to recognize specific words, and have it spell proper names. MacSpeech Dictate is the fastest-evolving speech recognition program, with four version upgrades in the past 10 months.

All speech recognition programs require a quality microphone. Microphones advertised as noise-canceling are good options because they help filter out background sounds that may decrease recognition accuracy. Microphones with volume controls can be muted easily for students who think aloud.

A comparison grid of these programs is available on the publications page at PACER. For more information on speech recognition programs, please contact PACER’s Simon Technology Center at 952-838-9000.

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