General Practice, Solo & Small Firm DivisionMagazine


Volume 15, Number 3
July/August 1999

Voice Recognition and Disability

J. Michael Jimmerson

Computers provide lots of promise and sometimes they even deliver. One example of this is voice recognition. For years, we have all secretly craved the desire to emulate Mr. Spock on the bridge of the U.S.S. Enterprise. If only we could speak to our computer and bend its will to our desires. This dream is quickly becoming reality.

The major hurdle that voice recognition has overcome is the discrete speech barrier. In the past, you had to clearly enunciate each word for the software to work. The problem is that we humans run our words together, giving the computer fits. However, the latest voice recognition software allows natural speech. Advances in this area owe credit to faster processors and more memory.

One of the best of voice recognition programs, Dragon Naturally Speaking, is a champ at recognizing our normal speech and translating it into words. The program is easy to use and will put your words right into your word processing program. Recognition rates are stunningly high and improve as you work with the product. Dragon has standard and custom vocabularies that should cover most needs.

Dragon Systems (www.dragonsys.com) just released its Legal Suite and you can also find the product bundled with Corel WordPerfect Office. If you are using WordPerfect, this is a terrific value. However, if you are using Microsoft Word, Dragon works well too. Gadget lovers will fall in love with Dragon Naturally Speaking Mobile, which packs a dictation machine that can capture your brilliant thoughts on the road for later conversion into text on your PC.

The key to using voice recognition software is training and dedication. You must do the training and tutorials provided with these programs. Typically, this involves reading into the computer for approximately 30 to 60 minutes. This process "teaches" the computer the nuances of your voice. As you use the product, it continues to "learn" and recognition rates improve. Using voice recognition software requires patience. If you are a devout keyboardist, you may feel the urge to dump the microphone and start banging away at the keys. The better course is to learn how to work using only the voice recognition software.

The one area that needs improvement is the transition from dictation mode to command mode. Dictating text into the computer is fairly simple. Ordering your computer around using verbal commands is quite a bit trickier. Even Mr. Spock might have been chagrined using today’s voice recognition software.

Voice recognition software can be a godsend for a person with a physical disability. Imagine using a keyboard if you could not use your hands. Such users have long struggled with computers because they had no other alternatives. These natural speech products make using the computer even easier. Indeed, many researchers believe that building better computers for the physically impaired will result in better computers for everyone. This has certainly held true in the area of voice recognition.

J. Michael Jimmerson is a lawyer, author and legal technologist. He is a manager in the Legal Business Solutions team at Arthur Andersen. He is the co-author of A Survival Guide for Road Warriors , a best-selling book on mobile computing for lawyers, published by the American Bar Association. He can be reached by phone (312/507-3005) or by e-mail at (michael.jimmerson@us.arthurandersen.com).

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