Writing with dyslexia: how to write faster without touching anything

“Do you wish you could type faster?” asks Neil Sleight from Talking Typist, who makes a welcome return to HTWB to bring us up to date on yet more improvements to voice recognition software (VRS) since his last article two years ago.

article about dyslexia

Voice recognition software like Dragon: a Godsend for dyslexic students, writers and business owners?

I was pretty rude about VRS at the time because being a) non-tech and b) impatient I found it clunky and disobedient. This was Dragon, the software Neil works with.

“You may have explored the possibility of using Dragon and if you found it frustrating,” Neil tells me, “it’s well worth having another look because it is now even faster and more accurate. And with a little practice it’s a huge help for people with dyslexia.” First, a user’s view…Sz

Experience of writing with VRS, as a dyslexic student and business owner

Please welcome Cheryl Kennedy, a friend and client of mine and the founder of the AIW Consultancy, an award-winning professional service providing wellbeing and autism support for families and schools. She also founded Confident Kids, a confidence boosting program for any child suffering from anxiety and similar issues. Cheryl is dyslexic, and here she shares her experience of using Dragon. Sz


Cheryl Kennedy

I’ve been using Dragon dictation software for the past three years. Was first introduced to this software as part of a disability package that I received when starting university. I wanted to complete a BA honours in childhood and special educational needs, however being quite dyslexic I knew there was be no chance that I could complete such a challenge without the aid of this software.

Dragon and I have a bit of a love-hate relationship. It’s great that I can just talk and it will write whatever is I say. However being dyslexic also means I don’t often have thoughts in a straight line. This can actually make dictating incredibly difficult as I have to really slow my thinking down to be able to dictate clear sentences that make sense.

Another downside to Dragon is that is incredibly sensitive.

If the dog barks Dragon will try to decode what it’s saying. Occasionally this has been quite interesting!

Dragon software has various modes that you can select. However the only mode that I actually found useful is dictation mode. I never used Dragon completely on its own as I needed to have a text read back to me to be sure that the words Dragon had typed where in fact the words that I meant to write.

I think Dragon has a lot of potential, although to get the full use from it you would need to spend quite a bit of time learning the individual commands needed to get optimum use of it. As a student I didn’t really feel I had the time to dedicate to doing this and so just relied on Dragon’s dictation.

Dyslexic adult training to complete a university degree

Dragon software was definitely helpful to some extent. However I would have to say that I found using a mind mapping software combined with Grammarly was a much better mix for managing my chaotic thought processes. I have also since discovered the free Otter app which works in a very similar way to Dragon only it’s on my phone. This gives me the option to export my recorded files as text PDF or voice which I find extremely helpful explicitly when I want to write short pieces for social media.

So Neil, what advice can you give Cheryl on how to get the best out of writing with VRS? Sz

Cheryl makes some good points and although Dragon is very good, it may not be the entire answer for some people.

90% of my training is with students who have dyslexia and they all have different problems, although there may be common themes. One of the first questions I ask when meeting them is how they currently write their essays; some say that they have an idea about what they want to write and can simply talk it through with Dragon, perhaps using the keyboard to edit and organise their text. Others may need to plan, either in detail, or perhaps with bullet points.dragon software

Dragon can’t do everything – other apps can help, too

In reality the only difference when using Dragon is that you are talking, not typing; all other processes are still necessary. Dragon has a proofreading tool, but apps such as ClaroRead or Read&Write can provide more focus and visual tracking when reading back.

Mind mapping software is very popular with students, allowing them to visualise and organise their thoughts, turning a plan into an essay. Also, note taking software, automatic spell correction software and referencing tools make this much easier.

The five Dragon modes are:
**Dictation and commands
**Dictation only
**Commands only
**Spell mode
**Numbers mode

All have different purposes and 99% of the time, the first will be used to allow a combination of text and voice commands. The next two are legacy commands, left over from when Dragon was a discrete dictation system (not continuous speech where there has to be a way of issuing a voice command). Spell mode is generally used when correcting Dragon mistakes but can be useful for occasional mnemonics such as ‘C2d’. Numbers mode can be especially useful in Excel.

Three key commands are all you need to get started, anyway

I tend to focus on three key commands for dictating text. This makes it so much easier to start with and takes less time to learn, and because you can control your computer with voice commands, there are a lot of them to become familiar with – a definite block. Just because you can do this, however, doesn’t mean you have to! Most people will use Dragon for writing and have no real need or motivation to learn all these other commands.dragon softwareThese key commands all begin with the letter C, making them even easier to remember. The other key here is knowing how to dictate a command and the difference between this and text. The most important part of using Dragon is constantly adding to your vocabulary, particularly with technical terms or unusual words.

How to speak to VRS software: yes, it does matter

Dragon can be a bit frustrating when you first use it if you don’t really understand how it works. Believe it or not, there is a right and wrong way to talk to it! Speaking slowly and clearly to begin with greatly improves accuracy. Using short phrases allows you time to think about what you are writing, and of course, you probably wouldn’t be typing all the time, so you don’t need to talk all the time.

Some microphones are incredibly sensitive and Bluetooth microphones are not generally uni-directional, so can pick up other noises (like Cheryl’s barking dog! Sz) and interpret them as words, so a good USB headset will really help here. Tuning the microphone for different environments only takes 30 seconds but can also help with the difference between a room with curtains and carpets and a room with no acoustic padding.

Technical terms and jargon? No problem – eventually!

A little while ago, I was training a student at Oxford University who is studying biochemistry but finds writing both time consuming and difficult due to dyslexia. This led to stress as she struggled to meet deadlines for essays. After a little training, she successfully dictated the following sentence:

“The results depend on considering the reversible conversion between the D card chloroplasts decarbamylated and carbamylated states.”

I thought this was so impressive that I made a note of the text and of course, it was written at exactly the same speed as the student dictated it! Not only this, but Dragon has a built-in proofreading tool that will read your text back to you, helping to confirm the accuracy and therefore rely less on others to do this for you.

As most people don’t proofread properly, myself included, this audio feedback has been shown to help people spot more typing errors than simply reading or scanning text. (You can also do this using the Read Aloud tool on the Office 365 Review Ribbon.)

PUNCHLINE ONE: Although Dragon voice recognition software may have been a bit fiddly and clunky in the past, it has now seen some dramatic improvements to make it more useful for users. It’s especially handy not only for obvious requirements like dyslexia, but also for any other reason why voice-activated input is preferable.

PUNCHLINE TWO: Neil very kindly has offered to help Cheryl with her Dragon software so she gets more out of it – for no charge! Thank you, Neil.

What experience do you have of using Dragon voice recognition software?

And if you have, how do you feel it has improved over the last couple of years? Please share.

Writers and voice recognition software: deadly enemies or best friends?

Neil Sleight

Neil Sleight is an accredited trainer for Dragon and has been using the software for more than 20 years.

For his clients in central England he offers a no-risk guarantee with his training, so if you are not satisfied that it will help you, he will take it away at no charge to you.

For more information email him on neil@talkingtypist.co.uk or call him on +44 (0)7973 171668.