Talking to a computer using voice-recognition software may enable some disabled staff to work and could help prevent repetitive strain injuries in others, argues Robin Christopherson.
Computers, laptops, tablets and mobiles are evolving at an incredible pace, particularly in terms of using your voice to interact with a computer or handheld device. We as consumers are used to the idea that the voice-controlled software “Siri” in Apple products has an identity and a personality, as does “Cortana” in the Android world. Many of us are now more confident about asking our search questions orally using the “Ask Google” function rather than typing them into the search field.
Like a lot of technological developments, the novelty factor of voice controls will prompt the technophobes to question why you would ever need to use your voice to operate your computer, let alone search for information using your phone. The fast pace of innovation can sometimes overshadow the practical benefits provided for certain users in their daily and working lives.
Voice-recognition software provides a fast method of writing or dictating using a computer and it could help people with a variety of disabilities. It is useful for those with physical disabilities who might find typing difficult, painful or impossible. It can also help users with spelling difficulties, including dyslexia, because recognised words are always correctly spelled.
Voice-recognition software works by analysing sounds and converting them into text. It also uses knowledge of how English is usually spoken to decide what the speaker most likely said. When correctly set up, the systems ought to recognise around 95% of what is said, if the user speaks clearly.
Is voice recognition software a practical workplace solution?
For many disabled people, the improvements in voice-control products have enabled more productivity and participation at work and at home. Anyone who struggles to use a mouse or keyboard because of difficulty using their hands or arms would find it beneficial to use voice controls on their computer at work.
Having the ability to talk into the computer is beneficial for a wide range of disabled people, including those who suffer with:
- cognitive impairments;
- motor impairments;
- vision impairments; or
- a combination of impairments.
For other employees, controlling a computer with their voice could be a new way of working. The risks of conditions such as repetitive strain injury can be reduced, and mobile or remote working can become more productive. The technology is widely available but it requires careful consideration, and most staff will require additional training and support to make best use of it.
Do some roles suit voice controls better than others?
Some roles are more naturally suited to using voice-activated software. These include: roles where there is a high volume of note-taking such as administrative or team support roles; and positions where the accuracy of what is recorded is important, such as work done by writers, doctors and lawyers.
Using your voice to control your computer can also be beneficial for roles that are not office based. You could have voice controls built into your car, which could be great for employees who have a long commute or sales people who have to travel long distances for their job.
Common tasks completed with voice-recognition software
Many workplace tasks can be successfully completed on a computer using voice controls. Some of the most common include:
- browsing the web;
- producing a letter or report;
- sending messages via email or an instant messenger service;
- making a phone or “voice over IP (internet protocol)” call;
- working on a spreadsheet; and
- data entry.
Case study – who does voice control actually help?
Dave is in his mid-40s, a senior executive working in a large corporate environment. He has deteriorating multiple sclerosis and therefore suffers from symptoms of fatigue. His workload involves lots of report writing, a heavy inbox of emails and working in multiple locations.
A workplace assessment for Dave led to the recommendation that he use Dragon Naturally Speaking voice-activated software. He was given training on how to use it, an ergonomic keyboard, a mouse and a chair with arm support, travel and taxis to work to be paid by the Government’s Access to Work scheme for disabled people and a mobile office set-up. These adjustments have allowed Dave to continue working at the same level for the foreseeable future.
For more information on the benefits of voice control and computing, download a copy of AbilityNet’s factsheet, Voice recognition – an overview