Thursday, 20 April 2017

Accessibility Hardware: Environmental Controls

There once was a time where if you put all the electronic items such as TV remote controls that I may need during the day in very close proximity to me that I would be all right. Now, however that is simply not the way I work. Quite a few years have passed since I lost the ability to do anything really useful with my hands except just about use computer and drive my wheelchair. In that time I have needed more creative solutions to access things in my home like the TV, light switches and the telephone. I have always used an environmental control. This is a device which can record and fire out IR signals such as the ones that come out of the television remote control and activate some light switches.

The one I have at the moment is called a Vivo+ and it is produced by a company called Possum. This one has a screen on the front which allows me with the touch of a single button the ability to scan through a list of recorded infrared signals. The version I have also connects to a pager and my telephone. With this system I can easily navigate the menus on my TV and get hold of people in an emergency. The bonus features are that I could use it as an intercom and a light switch. I no longer need to worry about moving my hand over loads of controls which is something that is impossible for me now. It is also a darnn sight better than having to tell somebody else but I want to watch. That is just not the way you want to watch adult movies. The version I have is quite an old one and I have had it for at least 8 years but the new one which is available now runs of a Samsung tablet. It works exactly the same as the old one but with this one I can send text messages, use skype, surf the Internet and all those nice things that you would expect to be able to do with any smart device.

Suffice to say I think that pretty much covers this simple but invaluable device. If you are struggling and regulating TV controls and using the home phone and all that stuff that people just take the granted. Then I would highly recommend that you try and get hold of and OT and get some sort of environmental control. I guarantee you that it will increase your independence tenfold.

Bert


Possum:
http://www.possum.co.uk/

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Audiobooks and Alexa

I can still vividly remember the last physical book I ever read. It was a compilation of all the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy books. We were on holiday at the time and I needed something to do whilst next to the swimming pool. I always find it very hard to have my brain set to idle so I've always had to have something occupying my mind. Ever since then I have struggled more and more to use my hands right up to a point where reading books for pleasure was out of the question. You could get a Kindle but I would have still been lacking control and I'd always feared it just would not be the same if I could not feel the book and smell the paper. For quite some time now I have really missed being able to read, my body might have not been able but my mind has always been a good place. My imagination could always take be anywhere and with the assistance of a well written and entertaining book there was nowhere I could not go. I felt like I lost a big piece of my life or at least the lot of the entertainment value. I did consider audiobooks but there was never really a feasible solution for me to control them as I could never handle the buttons. So with audiobooks I could not fast forward or rewind or pause. I also considered getting electronic books but I didn't really want to sit there reading a book whilst being sat in front of a computer. The whole idea was to be able to read it outside or on the go. So there I was with the only option being having an assistant read a book to me which did not really have the same effect as reading it yourself. Essentially, my disability had robbed me of something else and something which I really enjoyed. I always enjoyed reading goosebumps and then point horror, I had just started with sci-fi and the humour before I lost the ability. I resided myself to never enjoying literature again. Then one day I discovered a rather temperamental artificial intelligence called Alexa that ran on the Amazon Echo. In case you have been living in a box you would know that the echo is a voice controlled personal assistant not to be different from Siri but this one lives in a hockey puck sized disc and is controlled entirely by your voice. This thing can control your house, allow you to set a schedule, set alarms, listen to music and the radio. More importantly though it connects to the audible audiobook service which for an additional fee allows you to listen to audiobooks through the echo speaker. Because you can use your voice it means that I can select books and have all the necessary commands on the tip of my tongue instead of the tips of my fingers. Don't get me wrong this thing definitely has its flaws but when it can hear them properly and decides to do exactly what I say then it is brilliant. Normally, with other speech recognition say for instance Siri you would usually have to press a button to make it start listening to you unless of course you have it on charge. This is obviously not useful for me. The echo on the other hand has an array of microphones built into it and it can hear you over the top of the radio or audiobook just as long you don't have it set to loud. Personally I use my Alexa to wake me up with an alarm and listen to BBC radio two on the morning, then at night I use it to listen to an audiobook usually till after my carers go away and then I can turn it off after a few chapters and go to sleep. I do feel though that I should maybe point out some of the things that irk me about the system. For one you can only set an alarm to a selection of alarm sounds and you can set it to wake you up with the radio. It also for some reason keeps the defaulting to radio stations from other countries. Apart from that, it mostly works fine. I should also probably point out that I use a ventilator and my voice is not always the clearest but Alexa most of the time manages to make up for that. It is definitely a gadget I would recommend just as long as you can spare a little bit of patience which I often am unable to do. I always find now that with audiobooks there are a two things you need to consider, the first is obviously the book that you want. You definitely need to pick something that you think will entertain you and secondly it is very important to consider the reader. Some people drone on and on and on which has put me off quite a few books. However, after a bit of trial and error I have found three readers which I particularly like and those are Stephen Fry, Will Wheaton and a Guy called R.C. Bray. For me these are the best readers so far and they are integral in getting your mind to absorb the book.  In my opinion it is a very good idea to have a good listen of the sample before you commit to anything.

Bert out.

Monday, 27 March 2017

Disability and Social Media

Most of the time I hate my disability with a passion but I realise it could be a whole lot worse. This would be especially true if social media did not exist. With the condition I have it sometimes makes it very difficult to go outside and socialise. This happens more often during the winter when the slightest chill in the air can make my hands cease all conscious control. It is also a problem in rain or wind. Also, more recently I have been getting a really sore arse (I am probably due a new cushion) which has made sitting in my wheelchair stationary for a car trip out of the question. One or two days where I cannot go out is not really too much of a problem however, when those one or two days turn into a week then that can play havoc with your state of mind. I find I start getting bored, thinking too much and generally getting myself into a state. This often results in more days without socialising and the vicious cycle continues. Because of this social media and in my case more often than not Facebook is a godsend. I realise that social media can be a bit of a double-edged sword. I suppose it was originally designed as a way to connect people and bring people closer together. I think in some cases it often seems to have the opposite effect, I mean how many times have you got to see friends and most of them are completely absorbed by their mobile phone and doing the opposite of connecting with people. There is also the problem of people always being on display and in the case of some young people at school being bullied 24 hours a day seven days a week. The bullying often ending up with self-harm and in worst cases suicide. However, with all the pros and cons of social media out of the way I still think that it helps a lot if you have a disability. If with the state of my disability now I did not have access to Facebook then my life will be so much more difficult. I would not be able to easily organise events and I would not be able to meet up with my friends as often as I do now. I realise that email was a thing long before social media but unless all my friends were at their computers it was not really all that useful. Now I can do a Facebook message and it will instantly go to their mobile phone. This means I can all of a sudden decide to meet up with people if I so wished. It also allows me to communicate with people on those occasions when I cannot go out myself. The other big benefit of Facebook is that I can connect with a wide audience of people and in particular people across the world with the same disability. We can offer each other help or even just friendship. If I wanted to I can't even get them to water my crops but I don't think many of them like doing that. It is also very useful for me to share information about my disability those people which can often help them out in a pinch. This makes me feel so much less isolated with my condition than I would otherwise be. I am one of the lucky ones that have actually made it to my 30s but all of my friends within a reasonable distance are no longer with us so it is very easy for me to feel lonely. However, once again thanks to Facebook I have friends all over the UK, USA, India, Australia and Canada. I no longer feel lonely and what's more I feel like I can contribute to the Duchenne community.

I know that Facebook can often be a pain in the arse but if it helps me and others feel less isolated then I think it is a good thing to embrace. I realise that it is not perfect but technology never really is in its youth. I remember getting the first version of DragonDictate and it being absolutely dire but now I am using it without a problem to write this article. I suppose at the end of the day if you have a disability then social media is a good way to take the edge off it.

Bert out.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Accessibility Software: Natlink, Vocola and Dragonfly

This is another one of my pieces of accessibility software that isn't technically accessibility software but I find it quite useful and use it every day. The main piece of software is called Natlink and what this does is expose the API of Dragon NaturallySpeaking which in turn allows other pieces of software to have access to voice commands. Voice commands with Dragon NaturallySpeaking are in my opinion better than anything else available at the moment and that is why I prefer this. The two extra pieces of software I like are called Vocola and Dragonfly. Vocola is the easiest one to use and it is one I use the most often. I use it to add commands that write my email address, my postal address and other fiddly things. This saves me a lot of time and I have also found that I can use it in videogames. I can't use it for anything that requires quick reflexes in videogames but for the menu navigation and other action buttons like opening doors it is very useful. The next piece of software is called dragonfly and this technically isn't software but a series of scripts/macros that I use to enable me to program with my voice. With this you can make your own more advanced scripts. At the moment the ones I use to program allow me to switch between different languages and it also gives me a message telling me what language I am using. It also has the naming conventions so I can write things like this camelCase really quickly. If you are not programming then you don't really have to worry about dragonfly but because of what you can achieve in Vocola I would recommend you have a go of that. You will need to be using Dragon NaturallySpeaking 12, 13 or 14. I prepared a video explaining how you install it. There are also links on video for where you can download all the bits. Enjoy.


Links:

Python 2.7.13: https://www.python.org/

Friday, 10 March 2017

Accessibility Software: Cheat Engine

Whilst this is definitely not "accessibility software" by any stretch of the imagination.It is still something that I use quite often. I know it is designed for cheating but sometimes I have to use it in order to counter some of my physical limitations. The only thing I really use this for is the speed hack feature. If after I have got specialist hardware and used all my other adaptations I still cannot get away with playing a certain game then I will use the speed hack to slow it down to give myself more time to react. Sometimes I might slow down a fighting game or a game with lots of QuickTime events. A good example of this is with any of the tell-tale games where once you have read the dialogue you have mere seconds to respond. One of my favourite type of games is the hidden object game such as those available from big fish games. In most cases you have all the time in the world to figure out what to do however in Ravenhearst 2 there is a stage where you have to get so many points in a game of whack a mole. It would have been impossible for me to do this had I not been able to slow that bit down.

I would like to point out that I have my own set of conditions or rules for when I allow myself to use cheats. The most important being that I do not use it in multiplayer games or any games where I might be seen to have an advantage. Even though that is a load of bollocks, I mean no matter how much advantage I try and give myself there is no way I can have any more advantage than somebody who has a working pair of arms and hands. I also will not use this software on anything where I could achieve a massive high score. Some people work really hard to get a high score so I would not really want to take that away from them. Besides, the only thing I really want to achieve is finishing a game for my own personal enjoyment. I still manage quite nicely and quite a few multiplayer games but for those rather expensive single player experiences I will often use cheat engine to finish the game rather than burn £50.

You can download Cheat Engine 6.6 here:
https://github.com/cheat-engine/cheat-engine

Friday, 3 March 2017

Accessibility Software: GlovePIE

This is one of my favourite pieces of accessibility software. Granted it is technically not designed to be accessibility software but I use it in most games to make them easier for me to play. PIE stands for Programmable Input Emulator and the glove is because it was originally designed to be used with virtual reality gloves.

GlovePIE can be used to emulate a variety of different input devices including keyboards, mice, joysticks and gamepads. It can even be used to add rudimentary voice commands to some games.  You can also use it to make macro type buttons for complicated keypresses for games such as Mortal Kombat  I like to use it because it allows me to easily remap keys. Lots of times when I am playing a game and the right mouse button does nothing I tend to remap it to a function on the game. This is really useful when you are playing a game that does not have customisable controls built in.

Most of the time when I am playing a game I will use GlovePIE for its ability to allow me to remap keys although I have been known to make a few macro functions aswell.  When I first started experimenting with speech recognition I liked to use this program to add voice commands to my game. I would mainly use the voice commands to and perform actions that don't really require quick reflexes, such as weapon selection, inventory navigation and action buttons like "open door". This worked well for a while and only when you had few voice commands but once you add too many this system started to get confused. It also required windows speech recognition and this is one of the reasons why in a previous post I recommended that you train that as well just in case. I have since discovered better ways to add voice recognition but regardless GlovePIE is a very good tool to add a bit of much-needed accessibility to some games. Now it is probably more useful for older games seeing as a lot of new games already have customisable configurations. It still has its use for macros though in all games where you might need them. I would highly recommend you give this a go before you decide to splash out on more expensive stuff.

You can download GlovePIE from this link:
https://glovepie.en.softonic.com/

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Dragon Naturally Speaking 13

For me speech recognition is a godsend. It has allowed me to keep playing games as best I can and it has even enabled me to write this blog. There are two main competitors for speech recognition, Windows speech recognition and nuance. My weapon of choice is Dragon NaturallySpeaking Premium 13. At the time of writing this you can now get version 15. However, in my case I much prefer 13 or 14. This is because for my needs 13 and 14 are the most versatile, but we will get to that later. I like Dragon because it is really good at picking my voice over the sound of my ventilator which is something for some reason windows speech recognition just could not do. The speech recognition provided by Windows still has some uses which we will also get to in later posts. Suffice to say that most of the third-party software that uses speech recognition usually does it through the windows speech recognition engine. This includes voice attack and glovepie. With the version of Dragon I have you can easily make basic text macros. These can be used to type a lot of text with just one command. I have a command called My Email Address which simply writes down my full email address. I also have ones for my phone number, lines of my address, a full address and a few commands that I used to use in the World of Warcraft chat window. The main reason I find version 13 and 14 the most versatile is because you can use natlink, vocola and dragonfly. At the moment it does not seem to be working properly with the new version of Dragon dictate. Hopefully, in the future it will but for now I will recommend the versions before 15. This is only meant to be a short post suggesting that if you are considering speech recognition for an accessibility need then you should really go with DragonDictate 13/14 but that you should also train windows speech recognition just in case.

Monday, 20 February 2017

Accessibility Considerations for Gamers with a Physical Disability

A physical disability is any condition that can make any task involving physical activity very difficult or even impossible. They can come in the form of neurological disorder such as muscular dystrophy or cerebral palsy. It can even be the result of an accident or disease resulting in full or partial paralysis. In some cases a physical disability can make it very difficult for you to use your arms and hands. There are many other issues and problems that can be caused by having a physical disability but for the sake of the context of this post we are only going to focus on arms and hands seeing as in most cases these are what are used mostly for playing video games.


Problems Gaming with a Physical Disability


Having a physical disability can cause many problems for playing video games especially when that disability has a massive effect on your hands and arms. I can think of a few main issues that can arise for gamers with a physical disability and they are:
manipulation of input devices
fatigue
slower reaction times

Let's briefly go over some of the difficulties a gamer with a physical disability might face.

All video games require some form of input device and in most cases that will generally be a game pad, mouse and/or keyboard. That is usually the main way in which you interact with a video game. If you struggle to do use one of these input devices it can be very difficult or impossible for you to play a video game as the developer intended. You might not be able to reach all the buttons and press very reliably or you might not actually be able to use the input device at all.

Lots of video games these days can be very strenuous, especially if you happen to have a condition which can affect strength say for example Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. If it takes you considerable effort to use your muscles then you can get tired very quickly playing a game. I have this form of dystrophy so I can tell you from experience what that is like. When I used to play games and use a normal keyboard I used to get tired very quickly if I had to move my hand from one side of the keyboard to the other. Likewise if I had to move the mouse cursor from one side of the screen to the other. That used to be very tiring until I found a solution. Games these days can also have a lot of repetition such as fighting games and this can especially tire you out.

Most of the competitive video games these days and many non-competitive ones require very fast reflexes. This can sometimes be difficult for someone with a physical disability because often they have slower reaction times. In most cases this is probably because it takes the muscles more effort and a bit of extra time to catch up with the brain. In many cases I have been playing a game and I can feel myself thinking DUCK and then feel my hands not respond and my game character would drop dead. This can be really irritating. It can also take a little bit more time to respond to an attack. It might take you too long to get to a button or reload and you end up dead again.

Solutions


It was my intention to break this section down into three categories for each of the problems I listed above but really they a lot of the solutions I am going to talk about can be used for more than one of those problems.

There are many things game developers can do to make their games more accessible to people with a physical disability. In my opinion some of the best things they can do are as follows:
  • make sure you have a difficulty setting where possible
  • allow for key remapping
  • allow custom macros
  • enable some cheats
a difficulty setting is really useful. In most games where I have the choice I always tend to pick easy or very easy. With a physical disability it can often be hard for you to keep up with a very difficult game which can be very unfortunate given that lots of games have very good content making them more like interactive movies. I often find that I enjoy the stories of many games which I would not be able to do if it was rock hard and I could not get past the first level. An easy mode can also make bad guys a lot less aggressive so I don't have to worry as much about my slow reaction times when I am taking fire.

My next suggestion is to allow key remapping. There are so many times when I have really struggled with a game because most of the important buttons are too far away for me. Key remapping would be a valuable addition to any game because it would allow somebody who struggles reaching buttons to put them in a more comfortable place. This would help with anybody who gets fatigued really quickly as well as they would not have to stretch as far.

The ability to make your own custom macros would be a very useful addition to a game especially for somebody with a physical disability that affects their ability to press buttons. Especially so when you have to do it quickly and often. It would be very handy to allow them to make a macro that would record a complicated combination of buttons so that less effort is required to pull off that combination. The best example of where this would be useful would be in a fighting game where you have to do usually press a complicated sequence of buttons at the right time and in the right order to do a special move. You could also make macros that step-by-step cycle through all of your weapons so that it is easier to select one quickly without letting go of your ability to move around. In lots of games I would have to stand still when I select a weapon or go through my inventory.

Finally it would be good if you could add cheats. I can hear the fury of many gamers already. I am going to make a future post addressing how cheating can be used as an accessibility feature in more detail. There would obviously be some caveats to this. For a start I can understand that you would not be able to put it in a multiplayer game. However, if I was sat at home playing a single player game on my own then it should surely be allowed. You would just have to make it so that if you did choose to use "accessibility cheats" that you would no longer be eligible for high scores or anything that would give you an unfair advantage. Unless of course you add a different high score list for this purpose. There are certain cheats you could add to a game that would make it much easier for somebody with a physical disability to play. Sometimes a God mode can be useful for somebody who has terrible reaction times but still wants to enjoy the story. Maybe you have a disability that causes a bit of a twitch resulting in you spending an astronomical amount of ammo. An infinite ammo cheat would be nice. Just something to consider.


Conclusion


Trying to play video games with a physical disability can often be quite taxing. There are many things that can be done to make things easier. Lots of solutions involve third party software and different types of hardware but it would definitely be much easier if a little bit more consideration was put in at the design and development stage. I would much prefer it if some of the solutions I listed in this post could be added to more games. In future posts I will talk about other hardware and software that might be useful for people with this kind of disability.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Gaming with a Disability

I remember my very first games console, it was the NES and it came packaged with Super Mario Bros and Duck Hunt. I must have been about five years old and at this point apart from not being very strong and not being able to jump I was pretty much the same as everybody else. Playing on this console was as easy as pushing a game into it and pressing start. Whilst most of my friends spent a lot of time playing football and other physically demanding games I was able to use my hands which worked perfectly fine and play video games. Even better when I could give one of my friends the second control and play with or against them. At this point these games allowed me to compete with my friends on an equal playing field because physical skills did not matter. I mean they did to some extent but I did not have to use my full body just dexterity of my hands which as I mentioned at this point were fine. Then one Christmas I upgraded to the SNES which I thought was awesome and I could play this no problem. To me the colour, graphics and music was state-of-the-art and my favourite game was Mario kart people were no match for me. That was the last console I was able to play with no difficulty.

Eventually I had to make a choice N64 or the PlayStation. Well, I say I had to make a choice but in actual fact this choice was already made for me. The Nintendo control was absolutely massive and there was no way I could grip it without being in agony after five minutes. As much as I loved Mario I had to go with the PlayStation if only because of the shape of the control. This was the first time my disability had affected my favourite hobby. The shape of the control for PlayStation seemed to fit my needs exactly. It was the right size and the way my hand and fingers had started to get contractures I could reach the shoulder buttons and the rest of the buttons with my thumbs, the only problem I had was start and select but being able to pause the game was not really vital. After I have had this console for a few years I upgraded once for to the PS2 and got my first taste of dual shock style controllers. These were brilliant because at this point my thumbs were starting to get a bit weaker but the sticks meant that I did not have to move my hands a great deal any more but even so playing first person shooters was starting to get difficult.

At this point I had started to transition to PC games, as a reward for getting good grades at school my parents bought me my first ever decent laptop that was mine. I could not manipulate a normal mouse but the touch pad was very good for me and the fact that my left hand just rested over all the important keys for gaming allowed me to play games again with the same dexterity as I enjoyed on the consoles. When I got this laptop I could still type as well and I used it for all my work at college.

When I left college I had enrolled on a computer games programming course at the local university and I used this as an excuse to get my mum and dad to order me the best most state-of-the-art computer for playing games that they could get. This was in 2004 I think and it must have been the best part of £3000. Whilst I was at university which was a four-year course I managed to enjoy about two years of my hands not deteriorating but sadly before the end of the second year things started to go downhill. The lack of strength in my hands practically made programming impossible and I ended up going down to a course with a little bit less programming. This was a computer science course which I managed to pass literally by the skin of my teeth.

By the time I finished university I could only use a trackball mouse and my left hand was practically useless. One of my favourite hobbies was fast becoming an unobtainable pleasure. I was pretty much limited to games that I did not really enjoy all that much. There weren't many good games which only use the mouse apart from RTS games which I am not the best at and to be really good at you still need to be to use a keyboard.

When you have a physical disability that is this extreme it is hard to find a hobby. There are plenty of things you can do but most of the equipment is very expensive, in some cases prohibitively so. That's when I decided that in actual fact the only thing that I can reasonably do is use a computer. There must have been something I could do. I decided to do some research into accessibility software. I was aware of speech recognition as I had used it in college and university with very little success but that was many versions ago so I decided to shell out some money and get the most recent version at the time which I believe was Dragon NaturallySpeaking 9. Fortunately my hunch had paid off and whilst at this time the speech recognition did not really have of a function for games it allowed me to use my computer much more efficiently. All the basic tasks which I actually mentioned in my previous post such as writing letters, sending emails and just generally using the Internet started to slowly become manageable again. Especially when Windows decided to introduce a decent on-screen keyboard.

The combination of an on-screen keyboard, speech recognition and my trackball mouse was that I was gradually being able to play better games at and at this point World of Warcraft had been out a couple of years. In fact Wrath of the Lich King had recently been released and you could play that pretty much entirely with the mouse. I will admit with just a mouse you would never be the best player in the world but you could explore the world do quests and with an understandable guild you could do a few dungeons and raids. My setup was quite simple really. I used the speech recognition to press simple key combinations such as for opening my inventory and I also use it for in game chat. Then I would set the game to be played in a window and I had my on-screen keyboard just to the side of it so that I could initiate auto run and take off with my mount. This system allowed me to play this game to a relatively good standard considering the handicap. I still remember when I was awarded my Violet Proto Drake which was an achievement that took me about three years to do but I did it and I managed to do it with just a mouse and some ingenuity. There were some setbacks such as jumping at the right time was tricky and some of the things I had to do to get the Proto Drake achievement involved playing against other people who no doubt could use a keyboard and mouse. So a bit of luck was involved as well. Nonetheless I had proved to myself that if I put my mind to it I could find a way to play video games once more.

In conclusion, playing video games with severe disabilities is not only something you can do but something you could do well and at a level in competition with other people. You just have to be willing to look for the right hardware and the right software to let you get the job done. In most cases this software is free but obviously hardware is another story altogether. There are charities which can help such as special effect who will let you try hardware and then sort you out with fundraising so that you can afford it. There is also the possibility of you building it yourself which nowadays is not very hard. So remember that you don't have to rule out a very accessible hobby just because you think it might be difficult.

Thank you for reading and I hope in future I can talk more about different disabilities and the hardware and software you can use on your computer to do just about anything.

Bert out.

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Accessible Computing

Unfortunately muscular dystrophy has taken away the majority of usefulness from my hands. I can basically use my thumb on my left hand and with my other hand I can use a simple trackball mouse. This makes it rather difficult for me to use my computer. Fortunately there are now pieces of software available that make it easier for me to perform basic computing tasks and with a little bit of fiddling more complex tasks as well. The aim of this post is to introduce you to the software I use to make my basic computing tasks more accessible for day-to-day use. Later on I will have a post about how I make my video games and accessible but for now just basic computer use.

Basic Use


When I think about basic computing tasks i.e. the tasks that people perform everyday on a computer I think of the following:
  • composing emails
  • surfing the web
  • updating Facebook
  • casual gaming such as solitaire, minesweeper and Mahjong.
  • Watching videos on YouTube
All of these tasks have one thing in common and that thing is that they all involve some level of typing, whether it is entering your email content or search criteria on YouTube typing is the constant. With that in mind I would like to present you with the two main pieces of software I use everyday without which using a computer would be but a dream. These pieces of software are speech recognition my weapon of choice Dragon Dictate and windows on-screen keyboard.

Windows On-Screen Keyboard


The Windows operating system comes with this rather nice tool. It is basic but it does exactly what it says on the tin. This is a standard keyboard that opens up in a window and hangs around on top of any programs you are using. This is something that is always open whenever I am using my computer. I find this is very useful for surfing the web because not much typing is actually necessary. The version of on-screen keyboard I am using at the moment is the standard that comes with Windows 10. Personally I just like to click on each key and use it that way but there is an option to scan across the keyboard and type that way. The issue I have is not with the keyboard itself but with the speed I can't actually use it. I actually used an on-screen keyboard to type my entire dissertation at about 10,000 words. Also I did this without predictive text which is a newer feature. You can get away with using it in some games but that is a topic for another day.

Dragon Dictate


when I have to write more content say an email or a blog post then using an on-screen keyboard is just not very fast. At least not fast enough for me and I am very impatient. I have to use some sort of speech recognition to get the job done otherwise it is just too much effort to type every single key.I use a Windows 10 PC so I really have only two choices when it comes to choosing a speech recognition package. The one that comes with Windows (Windows Speech Recognition or WSR) and Dragon Dictate. I put a lot of effort into WSR because it was free but I quickly discovered that you definitely get what you pay for and whilst for me this package kind of did the job it really did not seem to like my voice. I am sure that for a normal person with plenty of practice and training it would be pretty good but the problem with me is that I now use a ventilator 24 hours a day and I think the speech recognition engine struggled to pick out my voice from the sound of the breathing machine. Dragon Dictate however is much better at picking out my voice just as long as I only say a few words at a time and not particularly quickly at that. This however is still much faster than the on-screen keyboard. Every now and again Dragon Dictate seems to have a bad day and doesn't get anything right but I would say that 7 times out of 10 it is pretty damn accurate. You can easily make macros with it which I use to quite an extent especially when I do the time sheets for my care staff in Excel. There is even a tool you can get which allows you to make your own speech recognition scripts using the programming language Python which is something that I will cover in a later post. So if you want to have a crack at speech recognition I would highly recommend Dragon Dictate but maybe at the moment save yourself some trouble and get the version 13 or 14 as opposed to the new one. The new one has a machine learning algorithm to train itself to your voice which is useful but the main problem is that as of yet it does not work very well with the previously mentioned python tool.