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1. How can voice recognition benefit students with physical disabilities?


Some students and adults have physical disabilities that preclude their using a standard keyboard or mouse effectively. For these students, voice recognition is one of several alternative input methods to be explored. Voice recognition may provide a more efficient means of controlling a computer that is less physically and cognitively taxing than other alternative input methods.

However, a student may seem to have the ability to use the keyboard, but have subtler physical difficulties that make voice recognition a more attractive option for them.

Take for example, Jason, a 19-year-old young man who sustained a head injury at the age of 14 in a boating accident. Jason suffered a significant impairment, known as "aphasia," in his production of oral language. This was characterized mostly by great difficulty recalling words and formulating sentences. In addition, he incurred a variety of other cognitive impairments, as well as subtle physical difficulties, including a difficulty with intentional movement called "apraxia," which limited his ability to gain facility with the keyboard.

When we saw Jason he was 2 and 1/2 years post-accident and making considerable progress in regaining language. However, prior to his injury, he had a diagnosis of "dyslexia" which had already affected his ability to read and write. Consequently, he was overcoming the aphasia and apraxia, but also was still suffering from dyslexia, all of which made written language production very difficult for him.

Jason had already had an assistive technology consult elsewhere and had been using word prediction, but with little apparent success or interest. We explored it again, looking at different and slightly newer programs, but found that he frequently lost his train of thought as he coped with the multiple demands of formulating and remembering a sentence, locating the desired key on the keyboard, beginning to spell individual words, locating them in a list, looking back and forth from the keyboard to the monitor, etc.

We then presented voice recognition with synthetic speech readback of the text Jason had created. In the very supported examination environment, it worked very well for him; he could keep his attention focused in one place for much of the time, the preferred word choice was usually given first, and so forth.

Based on our recommendation, Jason's parents and school district collaborated to purchase a voice recognition system on a notebook computer for him so that he could work at home and at school. At school he did his dictation with his tutor/aide in a resource room, where it was relatively quiet compared to many other environments in the school. The school also placed another voice recognition system in Jason's classroom for other students to get trained on and to use for some writing. As of this year, there are up to five students in the school who are beginning to use voice recognition for writing. Jason graduated last year and has gone on to an art college in another state, where he continues to be a successful and increasingly more independent voice recognition user.

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