It used to be that, if someone had challenges writing or typing, they had to wait for another person to be available to take dictation. I’m sure that many of you reading this post can relate to this. Have you spent hour after hour helping your student write essays or complete homework assignments? Or, perhaps you’ve sprained or broken your dominant hand or arm or experienced Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and became unable to write or type? Thankfully, with all the advancements in assistive technology, turning speech into text using dictation features on the devices we already own is one option worth exploring that is now easier than ever before.
When is dictation technology appropriate?
New research has pointed to the value of handwriting for improved motor skills, cognitive development, writing skills, and reading comprehension. As a result, when working with children, most experts suggest trying low-tech assistive tools such as alternative pens and pencils, slant boards, etc. to improve writing skills prior to exploring tech-related options.
Unfortunately, not everyone is successful with these interventions, so alternate accommodations must be made. Learning to type is a worthwhile lifelong skill and a great option for many, but others may do better speaking what they want to say rather than typing it. Every child and adult has a unique set of strengths and weaknesses when it comes to writing. Figuring out potential workable solutions and options for success isn’t always easy. Thankfully, dictation technology has come a long way and is a free and included feature on most of our laptops and mobile devices!
Benefits of using Dictation Technology
When the physical act of writing is a challenge, it can become a barrier to self-expression, academic and vocational success and even to meaningful socialization in our digital world. Using dictation technology provides people with an alternate method of expressing their thoughts and feelings, performing work-related tasks and showing what they know in school, without the anxieties and challenges presented by physically writing or typing.
Dictation may also be a good option for those with issues related to illegible handwriting, poor spelling skills, weakness or coordination issues, variable attention spans and difficulty expressing their thoughts in writing.
Examples of FREE Dictation Technology Tools
Recently, I was working with a client who struggles with dyslexia (a reading disability) and dysgraphia (a writing disability). He had used other voice-to-text technologies before and was unhappy with the results. I introduced him to the voice typing tool in Google Docs, and he was blown away! To access this feature, click the “tools” menu located a few words to the right from where you see “file.” Best of all, Google Docs are stored online, so you can access them from any computer when you are signed into your Chrome account. You can even access Google Docs from your Smartphone if you’ve downloaded the Google Docs app. Working on a document with a friend? No worries. Real-time collaboration is available and others can also be invited to edit the documents remotely.
If you’re a smartphone user, you may even discover that you have speech-to-text technology in the palm of your hands! Whenever your keyboard pops up, look for the little microphone icon. This signifies the ability to use dictation for writing emails, Facebook posts, text messages, and more. One of my clients, who recently had a stroke and suffers from aphasia (language challenges), enjoys using this feature to practice pronouncing words. It provides instant feedback, as you can see immediately if the feature has understood what you’re saying. Working on a Mac or PC? Be sure to check out the accessibility features. Dictation is an included feature on all laptops these days.
Unfortunately, dictation doesn’t work for everyone. Although it is much easier to use than in the past, it still doesn’t help the user to come up with the content of what to say and doesn’t magically help with organization. Also, it can be annoying to others in the room who are trying to focus on getting things done and may be easily distracted. New users of this feature greatly benefit from a step-by-step approach to learning how to implement it successfully. In my experience, the process needs to take advantage of a person’s strengths and put in place supports for areas of weakness. It also is difficult to use dictation successfully if the person speaking has a heavy accent or inarticulate speech patterns. I have found it quite motivating when used with a number of families to practice newly learned fluency and speech skills.
If speech is difficult to understand but the person would like to first be able to say what they want to type then listen to what they said and type it, perhaps creating audio comments would help. It can be helpful to create an audio file. The text won’t appear, but the recording can be listened to. Check out the Talk and Comment web app at http://talkandcomment.com
Interested in learning more about how technology can help? I invite you to join my free private IST Tech Savvy Solutions Facebook group or the next in a series of TheyMayNotKnow free webinars. I’ve provided a comprehensive overview of the technologies available in the latest edition of my book Assistive Technology In Special Education: Resources to Support Literacy, Communication, and Learning Differences. You can order it now through Amazon or Prufrock Press.
Try out a few technologies, and let me know what you think! Which is the most helpful for you?