As more students with low vision transition to online learning, one of the questions I have received from students and teachers alike is if I have any tips for learning to use dictation as assistive technology with low vision. While I do not use dictation as my primary input method, I have spent a lot of time learning how to use built-in dictation technology for my favorite programs and can effectively use speech-to-text to write anything from a text message to my friend to a research paper. Here are my tips for learning to use dictation as assistive technology with low vision, targeted at beginners.
What is dictation?
Dictation is referred to by many names, including speech-to-text, speech recognition, voice typing, and voice input, among other terms. Whatever you choose to call it, dictation as assistive technology is an alternative input format where the user uses their voice to speak text and formatting information, instead of using their keyboard or another tool to input text.
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Why would someone use dictation instead of a keyboard?
Some examples of reasons someone might use dictation as assistive technology instead of a physical or digital keyboard include:
- A user who is blind or that has low vision may have trouble seeing a physical or digital keyboard, or can’t type very quickly/accurately with a keyboard
- A user with dysgraphia may have trouble typing on a physical keyboard or handwriting information
- A user with a learning disability may prefer to use their voice to add information to a document instead of worrying about spelling
- A user with a physical disability may not be able to use physical keyboards
- A user with a chronic illness may find it painful or tiring to type and prefer to use their voice
Not every person with these disabilities or conditions will necessarily prefer to use dictation as assistive technology or have these limitations. However, knowing these options are available can be beneficial for people who can benefit from using alternative input technologies.
Five things to remember when using dictation
While learning to use dictation as assistive technology can be a very detailed process, my top five tips for using dictation effectively include:
- Speak punctuation and spacing when dictating text, otherwise it will be a giant block of text. Make sure to use phrases such as “period” or “question mark” at the end of the sentence, and say “new line” or “new paragraph” to add appropriate spacing.
- If possible, use a microphone or find an area where there isn’t a lot of background noise, as lots of talking in the background can confuse built-in dictation programs.
- Speak words as clearly as possible- there is a large difference between asking someone if they want to see someone at a concert versus asking them if they want to see someone get hurt (a very real message I received from a friend!).
- For longer documents, it helps to have short notes or an outline for what the user plans to say. For example, at my summer internship at a major tech company, I would frequently make short notes on my whiteboard or in a notebook before writing an email with dictation.
- Make sure to proofread before submitting a document- I recommend using text-to-speech technology or large print text to ensure that errors are caught (see point #3 for why this is important!).
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How to use dictation in Windows 10
To use dictation in Windows 10, users will need to be connected to the internet. Enabling dictation is as easy as pressing a keyboard shortcut- users can press the Windows logo key + H to open the dictation toolbar, and start dictation almost immediately. Users can stop this by saying “stop dictation.”
Alternatively, users who are using tablets or touchscreen devices can tap the microphone button on their touch screen keyboard, and then tap it again to stop dictation (or say “stop dictation”).
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Enabling dictation on Mac
Users will need to enable dictation within the settings menu of their Mac in order to use dictation. This can be done by going to the Apple menu, then System Preferences, then clicking Keyboard, then Dictation, and then Enable Dictation.
Users can enable dictation within any Mac app by pressing the Fn key twice and can stop it by pressing the same keyboard combination. Apple recommends that users speak for no more than 40 seconds at a time.
Using dictation in Microsoft Office
Select applications in Microsoft Office, including Word, PowerPoint, and OneNote have dictation available for users who prefer to speak instead of type. The dictation option can be found on the home ribbon, underneath the voice section at the end of the ribbon. Users can also use their operating system’s built-in dictation software within any Microsoft Office application.
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How to use dictation in Google Docs and Google Slides
For users on the Google Chrome browser, dictation can be enabled in Google Docs and Google Slides by clicking on the Tools section, followed by voice typing. Users will need to click the on-screen microphone button in order to turn dictation on/off, and can also use their operating system’s built-in dictation software or a Google Chrome extension if they prefer to use that instead.
Setting up dictation for iOS and Android
To enable dictation on iOS, follow these instructions:
- Open the Settings app
- Tap General, and then Keyboard.
- Tap on the On/Off switch next to Enable Dictation
A microphone icon will then appear on the bottom right side of the keyboard
Users do not need to manually enable dictation, as they can press the dictation key which is next to the spacebar on most keyboards.
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Examples of ways I use dictation as assistive technology
Some examples of ways I use dictation as assistive technology include:
- Sending text messages to my friends when I am walking with my blindness cane or having a bad vision day
- Writing out a discussion board post for one of my online classes
- Composing an email or section of a project at my job or internship
- Working on a creative writing project
- Drafting a research paper by speaking my thoughts out loud about a specific section/topic
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I love using dictation as assistive technology as a person with low vision, and while I may not use it constantly, I am glad that I know how to use it in a variety of different applications so that the option is available if I need it. I hope this post on learning to use dictation as assistive technology with low vision is helpful for others as well!