Speech Recognition, Dyslexia and Disabilities

“Dictating to your computer is so easy. No typing, no more spelling mistakes, it’s the dyslexic person’s dream.”

Many people with dyslexia, physical difficulties and other problems with literacy may struggle with the concept of spelling. Therefore, speech recognition can really help improve the productivity and outcomes for people with these difficulties.

Over the past few years, innovation in technology has grown immensely and speech recognition has come on in leaps and bounds. It is now used in many professions and in many scenarios: from medical and law professionals using speech recognition for productivity to individuals calling their bank and talking to a digital receptionist to confirm identification.

For those who tried speech recognition years and years ago, the innovation within this technology has greatly improved in accuracy. This has also removed additional frustrations from the lack of technology developments. Here are some of our helpful tips on using speech recognition software…

Q: What’s the most important factor for success? The hardware? The software?
A: No; it’s the person

The latest software (Dragon Professional individual) has really solved the technical problems. A clear speaker, using a relatively up to date computer with a decent microphone and with a little experience should get very good recognition results and gain real productivity benefits. We will outline later the technical problems that can still arise.

Even though speech recognition has come a long way, the software can still lead to frustration and a lack of success. Today, the main reasons for this will be human, not technical.

Speech recognition software is more likely to be successful if you are motivated because:

  • You have a disability
    • RSI makes typing difficult
    • Dyslexia makes spelling difficult
    • Dyspraxia makes handwriting and using the keyboard difficult
    • Speech recognition is widely used as an Assistive Technology
  • You need to write whilst using your hands for something else (e.g. radiologists or pathologists)
  • You have patience to put up with some inevitable initial frustrations
  • You have support 
  • Lawyers, academics, authors, journalists, students
  • You can speak clearly (people with severe speech impediments, such as dysarthria, can get satisfactory results through perseverance).

In addition, you are more likely to be a “great dictator” if:

  • You can speak fluently
  • You use a wide vocabulary
  • You can find the words you need easily (you have good word retrieval)
  • You already understand word processing & punctuation
  • You can multi-task, that is you can use the software whilst composing text
  • You have as much privacy as you feel you need to dictate confidently

None of the bullet points are essential and some individual ones can be overcome and some contradict each other; people with dyslexia often have problems with word retrieval, for example, but the more points that you can tick, the more likely that speech recognition will work for you.



If you are looking for productivity gains from dictation software (and you should be), accuracy is hugely important. Each mistake that you make takes longer to correct compared with dictating a word correctly. So, it is worth going to a lot of trouble to improve accuracy by one or two percentage points, this is particularly important for dyslexic people who are liable to have more difficulty finding and correcting an error than somebody who reads and spells well.



For obvious reasons, the microphones that are usually provided with the software have to be cheap and although they may be adequate for sound input quality, they are often not good for other reasons. They may be impossible to adjust adequately for many head shapes (“Change your head!” we hear them cry). People will often do better with the ear piece behind their ear rather than over it. They may be uncomfortable and the mics often, in consequence, refuse to keep in position.

If your microphone is too far away the signal will be weaker than it was adjusted. Alternatively, if it’s too close that you accidentally breath into the mic or it brushes your face, this will significantly spoil the sound quality and cause poor recognition. So, you will usually get better results with a higher quality microphone than the one that is supplied in the box. Sometimes it may make the difference between success and failure. We would recommend a USB microphone which is direct and easy to adjust.

Microphone adjustment:

It is absolutely critical to have the microphone (“mic”) properly adjusted and we suspect that this is the single most likely cause of frustration and failure in dictation. Unfortunately, the setup programs for you and attempts to tell you whether your microphone is properly adjusted and it may still tell you that your microphone is adjusted properly when it is far from in the optimal position. For the new user this is a “Catch 22” situation. Until you have had the system running with a properly adjusted microphone, you do not know how well it should work. If it is not properly adjusted, the training process can be very frustrating and ultimately pointless.


Support and Training

It helps a lot to have somebody who knows speech recognition to guide you through the early stages. You can save a lot of wasted and frustrating time with a quiet word in your ear, “Slow down a little”, “Don’t shout”, “Move the microphone a little”, “Speak like a newsreader”, “This is the best way to make that correction.”

Ideally, if you can afford it a professional one-to-one trainer will save you time and give you the best start.


Training can be very valuable, as you can learn how to use the system and to be able to recognise when it’s working properly and when it’s not.

For somebody new to dictation there are a lot of things to get right: diction style, microphone adjustment and positioning, making corrections, punctuation and the voice commands. Dictation is a bit like riding a bike and it can be very useful to have the help of someone who knows the ropes and can guide you.

Being trained by a professional will make the small modifications to speech style (pace, clarity, particularly of unstressed words, evenness of volume) make a big difference. If they know how well a system should work it also overcomes the problem of not being able to tell whether the microphone is properly adjusted, which means less time is spent training with a non-performing system.

Training the software

Traditionally, you had to spend some time training the software to recognise your voice. Now, you read a prepared script from the screen and the software will then adjust itself to better recognise your voice. In addition to this, the program learns from what it gets right and from your corrections, so its accuracy will improve as time goes on.

You can skip the training (which normally takes about 15 minutes) with the latest NaturallySpeaking and just pitch straight in to dictating. This can be useful with people who have reading problems, as the training can be difficult. We would also recommend another strategy, which is for a support person to whisper phrase by phrase into the user’s ear.

Working with children

There is still a lot to discover about using dictation systems with children, however the points made above all apply.

On the whole, children are not producing masses of written work, so are less likely to have the motivation to persevere with speech recognition but where spelling, handwriting and composing are major problems, then speech recognition can be hugely liberating and allow children to express their ideas on paper fluently for the first time in their lives.

Dictation systems can encourage children to speak clearly. It is important to make sure that you are familiar with the program and that it is recognising you well before you try it with a child, particularly if that child already has too much experience of failure. It is often a good idea to make corrections for the child to start off with as this lessens the cognitive load of dealing with the new system and allows them to see what they have achieved without the extra learning and possible frustrations of correcting errors.

Studies have shown that students with learning difficulties who use speech recognition:

Use longer and richer words
• Write more creatively
• Organise work better
• Complete more work

and counter intuitively, but it makes sense if you think about it:

Improve reading
• Improve spelling
• Produce better hand-written work

Get in touch

Whether you need additional help or would like to discuss a solution just for you.

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