Using voice recognition software to dictate your words and control your computer is now a realistic option for many people. Although the technology is widely available, one size never fits all. Voice recognition software provides an alternative to typing on a keyboard. At its simplest, it provides a fast method of writing on a computer – you talk into a microphone and your words appear in a text file on screen.

However, many voice recognition programs are far more sophisticated while still easy to use. You can use them to start and control your computer, using simple spoken commands, for example, to:
  • open and run different programs
  • produce and format a document
  • write and send emails
  • browse the internet and specific websites.
You don’t even have to buy specialist software. Quite powerful voice recognition programs are now built into new computers, tablets and smartphones.

 

Who can voice recognition software help?

Voice recognition can help a wide variety of people. It’s useful for anyone who finds typing difficult, painful or impossible. It can also help to reduce the risk of getting or worsening a repetitive strain injury (RSI). It can also benefit people with dyslexia who might struggle with spellings and sentence structure.

More generally, voice recognition can help to make mobile working easier and can boost productivity. Most people can talk much faster than they can type accurately. ‘Hands-free’ computing can make multi-tasking easier. 

Dragon NaturallySpeaking

Nuance claims that its Dragon NaturallySpeaking software works 3 times faster than typing and can achieve 99% accuracy. There are 3 versions but the Home edition meets most people’s needs, enabling you to:
  • dictate, edit and format documents
  • search the web or specific websites, and browse online stores
  • produce, send and receive emails, and manage your calendar
  • post to Facebook and Twitter
  • use the microphone built into your computer, to go hands-free and headset-free
  • dictate wirelessly using a Bluetooth microphone (or the free Dragon Recorder App for iPads and iPhones, available from the App Store)
  • listen to audio playback of your own dictation.
Premium and professional versions offer the ability to:
  • create spreadsheets and presentations using Excel and PowerPoint
  • use a digital recorder to capture your voice on the go
  • create custom commands and scripts to insert frequently used text and automate repeated tasks.
All versions of Dragon NaturallySpeaking run on Windows computers. Nuance also produces a version for Apple computers (running OS X Mountain Lion 10.8.3 or later) called Dragon Dictate.

Windows Speech Recognition

All Microsoft Windows computers now have a built-in voice recognition program called Speech Recognition. Although it does not boast as many features as Dragon NaturallySpeaking, it’s free and easy to use with good recognition rates.

To improve its performance, you can train Windows Speech Recognition to better understand your voice and spoken commands by creating a voice profile. You can then use voice commands to:
  • run applications
  • dictate and edit text within documents and emails
  • browse the web
  • fill out forms
  • control your mouse
You can extend this functionality with Windows Speech Recognition custom macros. 

Dictation on a Mac

Apple Mac computers running OS X Mountain Lion, Mavericks or Yosemite also provide free built-in dictation software. (Access this through the Dictation and Speech panel within System Preferences.)

Although it is a basic program offering more limited voice control, you can dictate text anywhere you could type it by keyboard.

In Mountain Lion, OS X dictation works by sending up to 30-second chunks of recorded speech to Apple’s servers for processing. This is fine as long as you have a stable and reliable broadband connection.

In Mavericks and Yosemite, turning on Enhanced Dictation enables continuous speech recognition. The most recent version of OS X, Yosemite, also introduced many new editing and formatting commands and the ability to create dictation commands yourself.

Voice recognition on tablets and smartphones

Intelligent personal assistants are an important feature of all modern tablets and smartphones. They use voice recognition technology and a natural language user interface to provide a range of services. Some of the most popular personal assistants include:
  • Siri – for iOS devices (iPads and iPhones)
  • Google Now – for Android and iOS devices
  • Cortana – for Windows devices.
These personal assistants offer similar (but varying) features to help with everyday tasks. They can:
  • respond to your voice commands and requests to provide information and answer queries (through online sources)
  • send messages and emails
  • make phone calls
  • take notes
  • schedule meetings
  • play music.
There are a wide range of personal assistant apps for Android and iOS devices available from Google Play and the App Store, including:

vokul (for iOS)

This hands-free voice control app dictates text messages and emails, posts to Facebook and Twitter, plays audio and calls contacts in your address book. It’s designed for noisy environments, including your car.

Evi (for Android, iOS and Kindle Fire)

This mobile app draws on a vast, and growing, database to answer your everyday questions about books, music, films, history, people, places and much more. You can ask your questions using text or speech, and get a vocal response.

Visit AbilityNet for more on voice recognition

Produced in association with AbilityNet

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