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.

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