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Voice Input Overview

People with disabilities have huge hopes for operating their computers simply by speaking, hopes that may not match the reality of current technology.

Research has shown that having realistic expectations is the biggest predictor for success in using voice input technology for people with disabilities.

As voice input systems become more numerous, and commercial advertising for these products becomes more pervasive, it becomes increasingly important for consumers and those assisting them to have clear information about this technology.

Confusing or misleading information can lead to consumer frustration and failure even for those people for whom voice input may really be the best solution.

This article is part of a project of the Center for Accessible Technology, made possible by a grant from the California Consumer Protection Foundation. Our goal is to try to reduce frustration for consumers with disabilities and prevent the costly disappointment that occurs when a system is purchased with inaccurate expectations. We encourage you to contact us to share questions, comments, and information.

Voice Input Today

In no other area of assistive technology has recent development been as dramatic as in the area of speech recognition. Having a computer distinguish between different sounds and interpret them as identifiable words is a very complex technical problem, and one that requires powerful processors and large amounts of computer memory. Recent advances in computer technology have enabled developers of speech recognition products to achieve results previously impossible on any but the largest mainframe computers.

We have seen an amazing drop in the cost of speech recognition products. Software superior to that costing several thousands of dollars a few years ago is now available for a little over $100; one DragonDictate program has dropped from $700 to $140 in just six months.

Although these advances have been remarkable, they can also be confusing. A wider range of products is now available, with a confusing range of capabilities, and the characteristics of these programs are rapidly changing. In addition to being able to understand the differences and similarities between the various offerings, it remains important to recognize what can and cannot be accomplished with a given program, or with speech technology in general. Although speech recognition is becoming more effective and easier to use in many areas, it is still not necessarily a transparent, "out-of-the-box" solution for every user.

Additionally, many people with disabilities are interested in voice input as a way of reducing repetitive strain injuries (RSIs) and avoiding developing complications such as carpal tunnel syndrome. People with disabilities are at greater risk of developing RSIs, and this concern is a well founded one. However, voice input may be a way of trading one problem for another. Voice input users have reported increased vocal strain and difficulty with speaking.
An exploration at CforAT is one way of assessing whether or not voice input is the right solution for you.

Some people come to our computer lab with the express goal of learning voice input, only to find there are better solutions that are less expensive, require less training, and are easier to use.
Voice input has the potential to be a powerful tool, and there are voice input systems that work for some people. Assessing the right technology for you is a key component in using any assistive technology.