Workplace accommodations

Save time with superfast speech

The main benefit of using speech to text software is the ability to level the playing field with eye readers in terms of time. Standard human speech is substantially slower than standard human eye reading. A radio commentator speaks at between 100 and 120 words per minute. Most people can read text at more than double that speed, and strong readers are typically clearing 300 words a minute.  

It is extremely important that you begin training to use text-to-speech technology if you have reasonable strength in verbal skills. However, be prepared for the difficulties you may encounter at the beginning.  

You can pair any of the speech engines demoed on the tools page with off-the-shelf optical character recognition (OCR) software that you can use to scan documents into electronic form. OCR software has been around for decades and has become so sophisticated that it allows you to turn virtually any font into a digital file that can be read aloud, or cut and pasted. The primary ways to use it are either with a 5-megapixel (or better) document camera or a flatbed scanner (see: Hardware Tools).  Scansnap by Fujitsu is a more expensive version if you have a large amount of scanning to do.

Once you have a document scanned you’ll need to turn it into speech. The two leading engines to OCR material are OmniPage by Nuance and Abbyy Finereader. The price of OmniPage OCR software, which is at the high end of this market sells roughly between $100-$500. Alternatively, an OCR engine is available as part of Google Drive's suite of software. 

You can use Google Drives OCR by uploading a high-resolution version of the document to Google Drive. Make sure to consider your privacy needs when uploading documents. The resulting capability will allow you to take any worksheet or instruction manual you might want to read, turn it into digital text through imaging, and then have your computer read it aloud.

Once you understand the basics of text-to-speech, it’s time to start accelerating the rate at which text is read back. First try increasing the rate by 10 percent to see if you can follow along. Every time you increase your speed by 10 percent, it will take you 10 percent less time to get through material. Watch a helpful video ( Save Time Using Superfast Speech)  for background on accelerating speech by visiting our Tools page for a demo.


Speech to text: Writing with your voice

Far and away the best provider of speech-to-text software is Dragon, a brand now owned by Nuance. They produce Dragon Naturally Speaking for Windows and Dragon Dictation for the Mac, which retail for between $50 and $100. As with text-to-speech, mastering speech-to-text is a skill that you will have to work to learn, and you’ll have to determine whether the time spent learning it would be beneficial. If you can develop this ability to speak as you would write, you will find that it can dramatically accelerate the writing process. It also opens up the possibility of using vocabulary that you might have been reticent to explore.   You can watch a video showing the benefits of this technology  in our tools section.

In general, you should expect it to take at least a month before you are fluidly using this tool. In the first week, practice at least thirty minutes a day, writing about anything you like.

One important tip for using speech-to-text software is to get a high-quality microphone. Do not count on the basic microphone that typically comes with the software. You will want to get a USB microphone that plugs directly into the USB port on your computer. These will start at about $35 and can go up to $300 if you want to get wireless units or other features.

When you begin using Dragon software, the setup process asks you to read aloud roughly five minutes’ worth of text.  This is obviously a challenge for someone who has difficulty reading in a standard way. It may make sense to have a strong eye reader actually record the audio first and then  listen to it as you are reading the words out. There is also a Dragon Dictation app for the iPhone that allows you to transcribe information into your phone via voice. 

Android and iPhones also have an excellent speech function. When you look at the keyboard there is a microphone button in the lower left. Tap it and it will record what you say and transcribe it. Quality can be mixed but it is getting better and better and it soon will be superior. This is great for texting or posting on social messaging sites.

Why headphones?

Since audio reading is a key accommodation, headphones are very important. It is best to get inexpensive earbuds—the sound quality is not the issue here. Standard earbuds also have the benefit of looking the same as any other set a person might be using to listen to music, thereby reducing any stigma you feel about ear reading rather than eye reading. However, you may want to purchase a higher grade, over-the-ear model to use while at your desk: these are much better for blocking out surrounding noise.