Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Questions About Using Dragon Naturally Speaking in the Special Education Setting

One of our readers sent me a question regarding Dragon Naturally Speaking. I thought it would be helpful to throw it out to everyone for comments and suggestions and asked for permission to post it. I have presented the question below and my answer after. I have had a lot of difficulty getting it to work with students and our discussion below explains why. If anyone has something to share on this or a fix you have found, please share a comment...

"Thank you for sharing all of your valuable information on your blog. I always learn something new and helpful when I visit your blog! I am trying Dragon Naturally Speaking with a young lady who has some significant physical disabilities and is struggling with using the mouse to access the computer. She speaks very softly- we have been working with her to "turn up her volume" which she is getting much better at. The Dragon also is having a difficult time recognizing her words correctly. For example she will say "The cat is black" and it will recognize "At it's plant be" or "The top is blue" is recognized as "Time is blue" and when she says "period" it recognizes it as "daily". We are using the headphone that came with the Dragon but after doing some research I saw that perhaps changing the headphone may make a difference?
We also are using Dragon 9.5 and maybe should upgrade to Dragon 10? I also read that the Dragon has difficulty recognizing speech of folks who have an accent- she doesn't have an accent per se, but maybe her word pronunciation is affecting the outcome?
Again, this is my first time using Dragon with a student and could use any advice/suggestions that you could think of. I have visited several sites that discuss using the Dragon, but still am feeling like I'm missing something or wonder if there might be another program that would work more efficiently for her?"

My answer:
"Dragon is a great program, but the limitations you are facing are common to my own experiences with it. The students I have worked with generally have poor pronunciation and volume when reading aloud. Shyness and lack of confidence can also be a factor. Mix in the issues of disabilities and, as you can see, it can be tricky to get this "miracle software" to work.
Here are some ideas:
1. Get a better quality microphone (as you suggested)
2. Go in and highlight the incorrect words and change them so that the computer learns that when the student says a word and consistently gets a different one, it will make the change automatically. This is done by selecting a misspelled/mis-interpreted word and correcting the word you want it to be from a word list, or typing it in yourself. If this can overcome the errors in interpretation, then you might be able to get it to work OK.
3. Sometimes a sound shield around the student stops ambient room noise from disrupting the ability for the software to hear the reader.

Our version in my AT closet is an older version and so I have not experienced the new versions - you are working with a newer one than we have. I use it a lot to write papers, etc. and have trouble too sometimes - I don't know of anything better. I know that the Mac has built in speech to text - it might work better. Because of the very issues you have brought up, I tend to steer teachers away from using Dragon unless the student has a good speaking voice - logistically, it just breeds frustration unless someone is OK with spending lots of time."

What have your experiences been using dragon?

All the best to you,


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Susabelle said...

Here's my 2 cents. Definitely get a better quality microphone. A microphone/headset is best. A quiet environment is critical, absolutely critical. We only use Dragon in a closed room with only the student present. Ambient noise can play havoc with Dragon's "hearing." Correct words immediately when misunderstood. This type of "correction" seems to take hold easier than later corrections. Training, training, training. There is no such thing as "working out of the box." In my experience, six to eight hours is minimal for decent training. Lastly, the student needs to talk slower than their usual speed. Dragon will not recognize conversational talking, it just won't work that way.

Lon said...

GREAT comment and VERY helpful. Thanks Susabelle.

anne marie said...

First, thank you Lon for using your blog as a way to help me find some answers for the student I am supporting.
Susabelle thank you for your 2 cents- to me it's worth more like a million. I will be purchasing a better quallity mic/headset this weekend- hopefully that will help. Your suggestions are very much appreciated.

BigBearJoe said...

Getting a quality microphone is a key component for success with Dragon. A headset microphone placed at an appropriately close position to the mouth should be able to accurately recognize even a quiet speaker as long as their dictation is clear. That is the key. You don't need to necessarily speak more slowly than usual, it just needs to be well articulated. However, many people both young and old may speed with less than good diction.

I'm quadriplegic and have been using Dragon almost exclusively for the past four years since my injury. The program is a godsend for me and both I and the program are now dialed in and working well together. For me, I've noticed that over time, the program's recognition can actually degrade with "improper" training. It may be worthwhile to start over with a brand-new user file. I've started over from scratch myself with good results, but that may not necessarily be the solution either.

If possible, find someone in your area that has experience with the program and can provide a little bit of one-on-one training. I myself have begun doing that at a local senior/adult Day Center.

For online help, one website I found helpful is:

Also, here is a link from that website, which discusses proper correction technique.

Hope this is helpful. As you can see I am able to crank out long wordy responses quite easily because the program will type just as quickly as I can speak.

Lon said...

Thanks Big Bear Joe,
Getting your first-hand expertise is wonderful. I am impressed with the way you have developed your software. Obviously you have spent a lot of time with it!

anne marie said...

Thank you so much Big Bear Joe for your insight. We appreciate you sharing your thoughts. The OT did purchase a higher quality mic/headset and we will give that a try this week.
Again thank you for sharing your first hand experience and for giving us the motivation boost I think we needed.
anne marie

BigBearJoe said...

Glad to be of help. There are many people who are experienced with using this program. It can be rewarding or frustrating depending on whether you're getting helpful assistance.

Using Dragon is a skill that has to be developed over time. Just like learning to manipulate a computer and use a keyboard and mouse. Some people are comfortable and can pick it up, and others find it foreign and a struggle.

Let me know if I can be of more help.