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In aid of Dyslexia Awareness Week, here at VoicePower, we wanted to explore how our expertise in speech recognition may offer aid to Dyslexic individuals.

So, with that in mind, we have teamed up with John Hicks – an advocate at the forefront of the dyslexic community and the father of Jess, a university student who is affected by Dyslexia.

So, What Happened Next?

John met Kelly, a VoicePower sales executive, for a demonstration of Dragon version 15 speech recognition software.

We thought it would be great to hear about John’s experience with Dragon and explore how it may improve and assist both Dyslexic students and employees in their academic endeavours.

Hello John, could you tell us about your experience as a father of a Dyslexic child and how this progressed into being a prominent figure in the Dyslexic community?

Throughout primary education, our daughter hated reading. When we got her to read aloud she would skip lines, and what she read didn’t make sense.

However, her teachers told us that everything was fine. So we assumed that she didn’t like reading.

In year 11 Jess was asked to read out a passage in public. Her reaction told us that something was not right. The school felt that Jess was going to pass exams but not be highly academic.

When my wife and I asked if she could be experiencing dyslexia, the school said probably not, and that they didn’t have the resources to support her unless it was proven.

John with his daughter, Jess, who has successfully surpassed the barriers that dyslexia presents and is currently studying for a degree in Musical Theatre in London – Photo credit: Beth Hicks.

So that was the start of the journey.

Jess’ test confirmed her diagnosis, we had many meetings and she got appropriate support.

It made me cross to think that if we had not said anything to the school, Jess would have struggled to get through her GCSEs. With support, she excelled and is now doing a degree in London.

How did your experience shape your career?

At this time I was working as a marketing consultant for a text-to-speech company with an emphasis on supporting dyslexia.

They supported me in writing articles about studying with dyslexia, and for three years that is what I did.

In 2012, I trained as a life coach and since then I have worked with dyslexic teenagers and adults.

I now support over 700 families on my Parenting Dyslexia Facebook Group, and coach individuals at school, college and even in the workplace.

John speaking at the SEN Jigsaw conference. Photo credit: Beth Hicks.

What are the most prominent struggles that Dyslexia can impose upon people with disabilities in the workplace/classroom? 

There are many challenges, particularly with reading and writing. Dyslexia is a language-based disorder; this can mean challenges with processing heard information i.e. remembering a list of instructions and recalling them.

There may also be challenges with concentration, focus and fatigue. These challenges sometimes present with unacceptable behaviour at school.

This is because they are trying to make sense of why their peers seem to be learning more efficiently.

The child’s self-esteem is at the root of this, eroding because they feel they cannot achieve what is expected of them.

Simply because a child think differently about the educational system and are being taught in a way that doesn’t serve them well, they don’t realise their potential.

SENCO Vanessa Evans said, in one of your articles, that ‘technology is now becoming an essential tool for the Dyslexic pupil’ – what technology is currently available for dyslexic students and professionals?

The technologies available are speech-to-text (dictation), and text-to-speech (reading out and proofreading).

There are also mind mapping and note-taking software that record lessons and make annotations via the user.

This can be life-changing for a child and will help them to study more effectively in the classroom.

Sadly, the investment in these products really only happens at the university level with the Disabled Students Allowance (DSA). Dyslexia support isn’t easy to access in schools.

Having recently had a Dragon demonstration with VoicePower, what were your initial impressions and thoughts on the software?

I really like how Dragon releases the user from staring at the screen all the time by dictating.

It was easy to put together a body of text simply by dictating what you want to say.

If a child struggle to ‘decode’ what they want to write into legible text, Dragon will help them to be more productive, increase their confidence, their self-esteem and ultimately unlock some of their academic potential.

John trialled the assistive version of Dragon: Dragon Professional 16.

Laptop sits on a desk alongside a plant and a clock. The computer screen is white with a blue flame. The text reads 'Dragon Professional 16'

Were there any specific features or aspects of Dragon that stood out to you as particularly useful or ideal for Dyslexic users?

For me, I really liked the way that Dragon removes the need for the keyboard. If a dyslexic student struggles with typing this software is ideal.

As you mentioned above, The Disabled Student Allowance (DSA) is available to Dyslexic, higher education students. Do you think that speech recognition would be a good use of this allowance and why?

If a student knows what they want to write but struggles to commit to paper, Dragon gives them an opportunity which is far greater than perhaps dictating to a human scribe.

Dragon eliminates issues of independence that a human scribe may present.

John Hicks.

Following your introduction to Dragon speech recognition, what is next? Will you be installing the software? Arranging further training? Where do you see your involvement with speech recognition going?

I would really like to install a copy. It would assist me in my professional work life: writing about assistive technology and presenting assistive technology in schools.

Installation would allow me to demonstrate how powerful the software is at unlocking the potential of some dyslexic thinkers.

Ultimately, with John’s insight, speech recognition software has been proven to be beneficial to special educational needs (SEN) users.

Dragons’ ability to learn and memorise each user’s voice pattern, recall information and follow instructions will be extremely valuable to dyslexic users.

This personalisation feature equals user-specific guidance to overcome Dyslexia barriers. This may be anything from punctuation and spelling to recalling and inserting personal details i.e. student details.

Dragon can also playback dictated text aloud, yet again eliminating the often daunting task of reading text.

This means that Dragon can cater to the diverse and unique ways that Dyslexia presents itself and offers a resolution.

Similarly to the way Dragon has provided healthcare organisations with time and resources, speech recognition has the potential to assist and empower Dyslexic individuals.

If educational institutions are to embrace the technology in the same manner as the NHS for example, the support and resources for SEN students will greatly improve – and isn’t this the overall goal?

If you work within the education sector or are Dyslexic and think that Dragon could be useful to you or your students, or would simply like to learn more about our services, we would love to hear from you!

You can also find support, information and articles on Dyslexia on John’s website http://www.studyingwithdyslexiablog.co.uk

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