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2. How can voice recognition benefit students with learning disabilities?

Voice recognition technology can benefit students who have learning disabilities that interfere with their ability to spell and write. While many such students benefit from standard word processing, the visual-motor demands of keyboarding can be a major stumbling block that compounds the writing difficulties. Similarly students who are the poorest spellers are frequently unable to effectively use standard spell checkers. For whatever reason, if students' oral language skills far outstrip their ability to generate text with pencil and paper or standard word processing, voice recognition may enable them to become accomplished writers by circumventing the most frustrating aspects of text generation.

Take, for example Sara, a 15-year-old sophomore in high school. Sara is a very bright young woman with a learning disability in the area of written language. Like many students with written output difficulties, Sara has the "gift of gab," and readily provides vivid oral descriptions and explanations. Unlike many such students, Sara loves to read and has always been reasonably successful at it. Writing has been a different story for Sara. Her spelling is idiosyncratic at best, and her handwriting is very labored and difficult to read.

I first saw Sara as a fifth grader, after her parents had already purchased a computer for her in hopes that it would address her writing difficulties. The purpose of this visit was to address issues about using the computer in school. However, we quickly discovered that Sara was still struggling. As bad as her handwriting was, it was still faster than her ability to use the keyboard, and she did not have the patience to plod along in her "hunt and peck mode." Despite several months of keyboarding instruction in a computer lab at school, Sara was still struggling with learning key locations.

The computer provided little support in spelling as well. Her attempted spellings were so discrepant from the correct form that they foiled regular spellcheckers. Despite recommendations for training and support, by the end of fifth grade, Sara was not progressing in using the computer, and was getting ever more discouraged about school. Her preferred mode was to write as little as she could, and if possible, not at all.

We decided to launch a series of trial sessions with voice recognition over the summer. Within two sessions, Sara had begun to tell a yarn that would eventually spin out over the summer to a 10 page neighborhood epic. She was very enthusiastic and felt she had found the answer to her problems. Unfortunately, voice recognition systems at that point cost thousands of dollars and required a different computer than Sara had access to at home or at school. Two years passed as Sara became more discouraged about school and recommendations for the system fell on deaf ears at the school department. Eventually Sara's parents were able to secure a system for to use at home. Sara learned quickly and once again her natural writing talents came to the fore. At the end of that year, Sara was one of two school-wide recipients of a coveted creative writing award.

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