Speech Recognition Technology has Empowered some Patients with Multiple Sclerosis
By Ellen Kampel & John Williams
Twelve years ago Maria Gomez began feeling lethargic almost on a daily basis, developed a tingling in her left arm and her speech became incoherent on occasion. "It took visits to numerous doctors before I learned I had multiple sclerosis," says Gomez.
Despite the uncertainty of life with MS, Gomez has "learned to deal with (her) illness" and speech recognition technology has helped her "remain productive."
Speech recognition is the ability of a machine or program to recognize and carry out voice commands or take dictation.
Several months ago, Gomez purchased a new computer with Microsoft's Windows Vista. "I wanted a system that had multiple accessibility features and Vista's Ease of Access Center seemed ideal," she said.
Microsoft's Windows Vista includes built-in accessibility settings and programs that make it easier for users to see, hear, and use their computers. Major accessibility improvements in Windows Vista include the Ease of Access Center, state-of-the-art speech recognition and magnification capabilities.
A decade ago, Lydia Mayo was told she had MS. Since her diagnosis, she has made numerous adaptations to life with MS, which includes the purchase of a new laptop with Microsoft Vista Premium.
"I did not even know it had speech recognition capabilities until I noticed the accessibility area on the control panel," Mayo says. "After taking the tutorial, I was able to start using the program right away. I estimate that it took less than an hour to learn the basics, go through the tutorial and start using the software," Mayo says.
Both Mayo and Gomez stressed the importance of the speech recognition technology.
"With the deterioration of my fine motor skills, technology enables me to keep writing and corresponding with people," says Gomez. "My computer, Internet connection and voice recognition software are important to me, especially since my mobility has become impaired. Being able to do something that I used to take for granted is empowering."
Mayo and Gomez also say their speech recognition programs help reduce fatigue produced by typing manually.
"Daily, I can produce more work in 90 minutes using speech recognition than I can typing," stresses Mayo. Still both women admit speech recognition is not a cure-all.
Mayo keeps reminding herself that the software is only as intelligent as her pronunciation is good and if she mumbles or loses track of what she is trying to say, that's what ends up on the screen.
"I have to proofread because if the computer misunderstands what I say and guesses, it can make me sound pretty stupid. One needs to be patient when using this technology because if you start swearing that will be what gets typed," she says laughingly.
However, on the whole both women give far more praise than caution to speech recognition software.
As an economist, Maria Gomez says "speech recognition is the life blood of my career."
As for Lydia Mayo, "I'm testing the waters right now to see if people are interested in my message through my blog, something I would never attempt if I didn't have some form of speech recognition software."
Ellen Kampel is the public affairs manager for the Accessibility Business Unit at Microsoft. John M. Williams has been writing about disability issues since 1978 and coined the phrase "Assistive Technology."