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Helen's Story

Initial request for assistance

Helen is in third year and attends her local mainstream secondary school. Helen has a significant shake in her arms and hands and poor fine motor skills, and because of this she cannot keep up with the pace of work in the class and her handwriting is hard to read. Due to her shake she does not sleep well so is over very tired and struggles to concentrate.

Helen had a personal lightweight laptop and staff said that this did have a significant impact on her access to the curriculum. Worksheet are printed out and provided for Helen by teachers to she is not expected to copy anything from the board. She receives individual support in class from at Learning Assistant who will keep her on task and is able to type for her when necessary.

However, the school referred Helen again because her speed of working in class, and fatigue, were still challenging, and they wanted advice on access methods that might increase speed and reduce fatigue. Helen also found the laptop heavy to carry around in school.


Access Technology

Helen could access and use the laptop keyboard and trackpad, but relatively slowly and with great effort. So how can she type faster and with less effort?

There are a few techniques, including:

  • AutoCorrect or Abbreviation Expansion - where you type a short abbreviation and the software expands it, saving time and effort;
  • Word Prediction - which can reduce keystrokes by up to 75%.

But an obvious access method to explore was speech recognition, given that this technology can:

  • almost eliminate the need to type physically and,
  • according to Nuance, the developers of Dragon NaturallySpeaking, it “allows students to dictate at up to 3 times faster than typing”.

Dragon Naturally Speaking Speech Recognition

There are several speech recognition systems available (see CALL's Speech Recognition web pages) and we chose to evaluate Dragon because:

  • we wanted to use a Windows computer, because Helen was already confident with it, and because it would fit into the school IT infrastructure most easily;
  • Dragon has features for 'hands-free' control of the computer which we thought could be helpful, given her physical support needs.

The newer versions of Dragon do not require any initial training, and so Helen created a voice profile in a few minutes and we taught her how to dictate with the software. The results were immediately impressive, and Helen was keen to evaluate the speech recognition in school. We spent some time in the morning going through further training to improve the system's accuracy, and also completed a basic tutorial on the software.

Helen was keen to get going, so in the afternoon she took the laptop with her to the Geography class and used it successfully to dictate answers to questions.

Sounds easy eh?

Well, yes and no. Helen has a clear and confident speaking voice, and so dictation accuracy was good from the very start. Secondly, she is a confident young woman who was not concerned about dictating out loud in the middle of a busy classroom. And thirdly, she has excellent literacy skills and her dictated language is of high quality. As a result, the software worked for her.

But speech recognition does not work for everyone. Bethany, another learner in Helen's class evaluated Dragon at the same time and the results were quite different. Bethany has quite significant reading, writing and spelling challenges and she is quieter and less confident. At first, accuracy was poor, but after creating a second user profile, Bethany was able to dictate with good results and we successfully went through accuracy training and a basic introduction to the software. In class, however, Bethany was really not happy about dictating out loud.



What do these stories tell us about speech recognition and how we need to support young people who are learning to use it in school?


Helen used Dragon and the new laptop in class for about three months. Helen and her Support for Learning teacher both completed CALL evaluation forms to evaluate impact of the technology on her access to the curriculum:

Assistive Technology Evaluation - staff

What impact has the technology had on the pupil's ability to access the curriculum?

  • "Helen's speed has increased significantly allowing her to keep up with the pace of the lessons.
  • She is also able to allocate time to thinking when answering questions as she is able to get her answers down quicker.
  • Her answers are much easier to read so she will lose less marks for illegibility.
  • lt has given her a huge boost in confidence and self-esteem as she is taking control of her own learning."

How has it impacted on the learner's written work (quantity and quality), in comparison with what s/he was able to produce without it?

  • "Helen is able to produce work that is legible and easy to read.
  • She is also able to write more than double in the allocated time."

Has it helped the learner to develop the four capacities of Curriculum for Excellence?

Successful learner

  • "She has become more motivated and determined to complete her work to an even higher standard than before.
  • She can now dedicate more time to thinking about what has been asked and planning her answers rather than spending most of her time getting words down on paper."

Confident individual

  • "She now feels part of the class and can keep up with the pace better.
  • She knows she will be able to complete tasks and is able to contribute to discussions."

Effective contributor

  • "She is able to communicate in a variety of methods now.
  • She has the time to listen to others and express her own opinions.
  • She is able to work independently and at a pace that shows her potential."

Responsible citizen

  • "She is able to work in a group, listen to others and put her own point of view across in a timely manner. She no longer needs to dedicate a significant amount of time to writing."

Any further comments...

"This technology has given Helen a real boost. lt has given her a sense of self belief and a determination to work on her own knowing that she is able to. This technology will have an impact in the immediate and long term for this pupil and I know she will appreciate what it means to her."


Assistive Technology Evaluation - Helen

This form is to help you think about the technology you have tried out and compare it with ordinary reading and handwriting. Fill in the form when you feel you have a good idea about what it is like to use the equipment.

Use a scale of 1 to 10. Score 1 if that factor is so bad that you would not dream of ever considering it. Score 10 if it is so brilliant that you could not do without it.

  Reading paper books and handwriting with jotters
Score 1 to 10 1=rubbish 10=brilliant
Laptop & software for reading and Dragon for writing.
Score 1 to 10 1=rubbish 10=brilliant
Reading web sites   Note because of [1]
Reading school work 10 See [2]
Your speed of reading 10 See [2]
Understanding what you read 10 See [2]
Writing / typing speed on keyboard 4 8
Dictating speed with Dragon NA 9
Legibility / quality of writing / typing 3 9
Your spelling 8 10
Effort needed to write / type 2 8
Effort needed to dictate with Dragon NA 10
Portability (weight / size) ? 5
Ease of use 1 9
Ease of printing a paper copy 2 7, see [3]
Screen (size / text size / clarity) NA 8
Keyboard NA 8
Battery life NA 10
Appearance / cool factor ? 8 see [4]
Opinions of friends ? ?
Opinions of family ? 10
Opinions of teachers ? 9
Your opinion! ? 9

Please write any other comments here:

[1] "Current laptop does not connect to internet but if it did - 8." (The CALL loan laptop was not permitted to connect to the school network.)

[2] "Helen doesn't have an issue with reading."

[3] "This laptop doesn’t connect to any printer." (The CALL loan laptop was not permitted to connect to the school network.)

[4] "It does what I need it to do."

Helen said: "It is a very useful Dragon. Dictation is very easy software to use. I use it a lot in school. It has really helped me. I do find my laptop a bit heavy to carry around."