Skip to main content

Microsoft Is Listening: Vista Speech Recognition Is Worth Talking About

As a professional programmer who also happens to be afflicted with spinal muscular atrophy (a severe neuromuscular disorder), PC accessibility is of paramount importance to me. Accessibility (or the lack of it) directly influences how efficiently I am able to work, which invariably influences my bottom line. More than that, it affects my state of mind. Being able to click that little red 'x' to close a window on your desktop may seem easy to most of you, but it can become quite tiresome or perhaps even be impossible to do for many users with disabilities. So when the world's most influential software maker introduces a new or updated accessibility feature, I take notice. And after test driving Windows Vista's speech recognition engine, it most certainly opened my eyes, er mouth!

Why am I so excited? Well, for one, speech recognition has finally become a first-class citizen in Windows. Before Vista, speech recognition was never installed by default in Windows (and for good reason). It used to only be effective in a very limited number of scenarios, like dictating in Microsoft Word, but, now, it is useful almost everywhere. Why is that? The short answer: It's truly integrated in the OS, which gives it much more power than ever before. The long answer: Nearly all Windows controls (text boxes, dropdown lists, menus, etc.) are now interfacing with the new Text Services Framework, but you can learn the details elsewhere from the experts.

So what does all of this really mean? Now, I can surf the web by voice without touching a mouse; I can click a point on the screen by speech alone; and I can dictate this article without typing on a keyboard. Pretty cool!

Of course, all of this has largely been available before in third-party applications, like Nuance Dragon NaturallySpeaking (DNS), but, in my opinion, never so elegantly and effectively with the entire user experience. Just try comparing Windows Speech Recognition and DNS when surfing the web in Internet Explorer or finding a file in Windows Explorer, and you'll quickly understand what I mean.

Windows Speech Recognition (WSR) still has room for improvement. One significant shortcoming of WSR is that there is no macro support yet. Also, my dictation is still more accurate in DNS, but the difference is minimal, and, with more use, WSR may very well eliminate that gap. Command-and-control is significantly superior with WSR, though, and the price is right (it's included in the OS). All in all, the speech recognition competition will definitely benefit consumers.

I, for one, am appreciative of all of Microsoft's effort put into speech recognition and am grateful it has become a mainstream feature in Windows. Indeed, I may have actually experienced a genuine "wow" moment because of it. ;-)


Popular posts from this blog

Using the On-Screen Keyboard as an Alternative to Typing with a Physical Keyboard

As an individual with a physical disability who touts speech recognition so much, I occasionally get asked how I ever use the computer without having speech recognition available (since I cannot move my arms well enough to operate a standard physical keyboard)? This is a good question, since speech recognition is not one of the most portable tools around. For example, I've never come across a public computer at a library or hotel that was set up with a good microphone and sound card combo, which are necessities for using speech recognition. So, when the necessary hardware is unavailable, that means I have to look for software to simulate it--in this case, the On-Screen Keyboard . The On-Screen Keyboard is nothing new to Windows; it's been one of the standard accessibility tools for several versions now, not just Vista. It's pretty simple, really, but is extremely useful for users like me who cannot utilize a traditional physical keyboard. Basically, the On-Screen Keyboard a

Talking to the Web

A fellow web development aficionado recently asked me a question I commonly receive concerning web accessibility, so I thought I'd share my thoughts here in hope that others might benefit from my ideas (and hopefully expand upon them). Here's the question: Is there anything in particular in terms of accessibility or even just coding in general that you find to be the most helpful when using the web? This is obviously a very broad question and to limit its response to a single blog post probably does not do it justice. However, it is indeed a very simple, honest concern that deserves a simple, honest reply, so I'll try my best to offer my advice here. Of course, you should keep in mind that my suggestions are focused on my own experience in accessibility. My vision and hearing are actually quite good, so I'm not as familiar in accessibility concerning those areas. But I can tell you a lot about how speech recognition works as far as web pages are concerned. I suppose the

Using the XPS Document Writer as an Alternative to Printing Hard Copies

The other day, a colleague submitted a programming request to me to try to improve the way some of the pages on our company web site print out. Knowing that I had trouble handling traditional paper documents because of my disability, she was polite enough to ask if we could just set up a quick meeting so she could show me the printed examples and flip through the pages for me. Although I appreciated the friendly gesture of help, I like it when I can suggest simpler, more accessible solutions that really end up saving time for everyone involved. So I asked if she could simply just print an XPS document instead of messing with a hard copy at all. And as somewhat expected, I promptly received a confused "What's an XPS document?" in return. So then, what is an XPS document? Well, if you are really technically savvy and want to know the details, then I'd suggest looking elsewhere, perhaps starting by reading all about the XML Paper Specification at Microsoft . But if