I’ve been using Dragon Professional voice-activated software by Nuance for more than seven months and it has totally transformed my working life. After months off work with chronic pain, exacerbated by computer use, the possibility of a return to work seemed remote, until a decision was made to explore technological solutions.
Access to Work made an assessment of my needs and recommended that I be provided with a stand-up desk and Dragon Professional software and training. Obviously, I had no idea if I would be able to do the tasks necessary for my job with Dragon or if I would be able to learn to use the programme and be completely hands-free. My job lay in the balance.
On my first day of training I read a couple of set paragraphs for the software to understand my voice and get to know my way of speaking – and it did this almost instantaneously. I was amazed at how responsive it was to everything I said. Obviously, it doesn’t understand everything straight away and there are particular terms and acronyms I have had to train Dragon to understand, but if you take the time to do this, it makes all the difference.
I remember very early on I was composing an email to a colleague called Fern, and I dictated “Hi Fern” and all that appeared was –. After a couple of seconds I realised Dragon thought I had said “hyphen”. It’s all in the timing! You just need to leave a little pause between Hi and Fern, and it works. The same goes for postcodes, email addresses and telephone numbers – get the timing right and Dragon totally understands what you are saying. Sometimes when I’m writing emails and say something like “I will send you the document”, Dragon hears the word “send” and immediately sends the email out! The way around that is not to enter the recipient’s email address until you really want to send it. Also, to get Dragon to listen to me, I say “wake up” and then “sleep” to stop it listening, which if I have to repeat several times, feels very strange in an open plan office.
As I need to be completely hands-free, I’ve had to learn a huge number of commands for the enormous number of actions necessary to work in the different programmes I use, but I have to say, there is nothing more satisfying than saying a command and seeing the action appear on screen. Many commands are really simple, such as “Cap that” if you want to capitalise a word or “make that bold” if you want to change the style – you may have noticed this text has now become bold, that’s how easy it is.
As the weeks went by I was able to do more and more within the different programmes I use: Word, Outlook, Internet Explorer, Excel and a database called Raiser’s Edge. If I’m working in Outlook and I want to use Excel, I just say “switch to excel” and that goes for switching between all the programmes. If I’m checking my emails in Outlook but want to look at my calendar, I say “go to calendar” or I might want to “go to contacts” – it’s pretty intuitive.
Many tasks are much quicker with Dragon and if you do a lot of typing, it’s an absolute must. It’s also possible to dictate into a voice recorder when you’re away from your computer and Dragon will convert it into text at a later date. Thanks to Dragon I’m back at work: writing emails, producing documents, working with spreadsheets and databases, and trawling the Internet – all without clicking a mouse and hardly touching a keyboard.
After all these months I still get a real buzz from working with Dragon. As I get more confident and feel that I’m controlling Dragon, rather than it controlling me, Dragon has also become a companion who works alongside me and keeps me on my toes – although it sometimes needs a bit of a push to “wake up” in the mornings!
If you want to be stunned and amazed, watch Dragon in action on the Nuance website.
P.S. Everyone should have a stand-up desk too.