Friday, September 28, 2007

Adapting to an RSI Using Voice Recognition Software and More

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a pain in the... arm. It's an RSI (repetitive stress injury) that in my case developed from over using my right arm on computers. Denise, over on the Family Matters blog, has a nice article today exploring voice recognition software options for Windows and Mac users. I thought that I might share a little bit more on this subject.

I wrote about using voice recognition software previously but at that point I hadn't been using it very long. Now I have a few weeks of experience under my belt and I'd like to share with you a little more about what speech recognition software can do and can't do. I would like to mention that my entire experience with voice recognition software (VRS) has been using the program that comes as a part of the Microsoft Vista operating system. I have not investigated any other programs so I can't vouch for what they can or can't do.

Vista's VRS is by no means perfect. Rarely do I get through a dictating session that I don't experience at least some frustration with the program. However, it does allow me to continue blogging without having to use my arm, and for that I am grateful.

I'm going to leave the paragraph I am currently dictating on corrected so that you can see the type of errors that come up even when im speaking deliberately and a Nancy aiding clearly. Some words are easier for the program to understand others are more difficult. For some reason the word genealogy ist seems to be especially difficult. No matter how many times I spell the word out for the computer, " teaching it", it's still spells the word, genealogy ist. Now if genealogy wasn't my hobby I wouldn't care that I can't seem to get the word that means " a person who performs genealogy research" to come out right. But I do care and it's frustrating to have to go back and spell it out each and every time I want to use it. But the alternative is using my arm to type and causing myself pain. So I tolerate the frustration. The other thing that requires a lot of correction is capitalization. This program recognizes some proper names but not others, e.g. Steve, randy, Miriam, Susan, Cheryl, Linda, mike. It also misses the capitalization on other words such as, polish.

The other thing to note about VRS is that it does not recognize voice inflections. It doesn't know when you want to insert a comma unless you tell it to. It doesn't know when you've come to the end of a sentence unless you say the word " period". Because of this it really can't be used to type up an oral history recording. Unless of course you'd want to go through and make all the corrections adding periods, commas, capitalizations, etc.

I've also found that dictating in some software programs works better than others. For instance, if I try to dictate an email directly into my Yahoo mail account I seem to get one error after another. If I use Wordpad a word processing program that comes with the Vista operating system I get much fewer errors. (I am dictating this blog post in Wordpad right now.) Dictating in the Google mail program, I have much more success. Dictating directly to Google Docs also works pretty well.

Navigating around the Internet is difficult to do with VRS. Some web sites are more "accessible" then others. Most web sites have some navigation that the VRS can recognize. But I have yet to find a site that I can fully navigate and use without my arm. The only genealogy software I have tried is Legacy. In that program I can access all of the links in the top navigation bar and click on any items in the drop down lists. However I can't click on a given individual's name to pull up additional information about them or even switch to another individual without using my arm. So I can change screens easily but I can't change individuals who appear on a screen.

I was really hoping that my arm would be "all better" by now. But it's definitely not. I do have periods of time when my army is totally pain free but I never know when those periods will come about or how long they will last. The pain free episodes are becoming more common so I am encouraged that if I continue to rest my arm eventually it will be all better. But it's going very slowly. In the meantime in addition to using VRS for all of my blogging (I dictate in Wordpad then copy and paste into the Blogger program), I am using a graphics tablet (thanks for the idea Denise!) to do some design work, and I am teaching myself to "mouse goofy"… (Which means to use my left hand on the mouse) for everything else. As you can imagine all of this is rather kludgy for me. Even with a few weeks practice now it still takes a long time to do much of anything on the computer. The hardest thing for me to do is reply to or send e-mail. My email boxes are overflowing with messages waiting to be returned. To those of you who are wondering why you haven't heard back from me please know that I'll get to your email as soon as I can.

So while voice recognition software doesn't do everything I'd like it to in the way I would like it to I would still recommend it to anyone with a repetitive stress injury. I also recommend using a graphics tablet and learning to mouse goofy. Not only do all of these things relieve the stress on the injured arm but they also challenge your brain to work in different ways. I'm getting lots of brain exercise these days!