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Information & Advice

...for Students

...for Staff

...on Assistive Technology


Assistive Technology

Voice recognition, text readers and sound recording.



Speech to text software (also known as Voice Recognition or VR)


High tech/ high cost

The user speaks, the software recognises what was said and types it into the computer.

This means that:


Dyslexia affects different people in different ways. Some people with dyslexia will be able to use voice recognition software without any problems. Others may have difficulty with enrolment, dictation or correction.

A common view on voice recognition (VR) software is that it promises more than it delivers. It can be time consuming to train and can make errors in detecting speech. That said, for students who really struggle with writing, it can be a useful tool.  Improvements in the software have produced significant gains in the speed and accuracy of voice recognition, to the point where it is no longer just a tool for disabled people, but one which can deliver real benefits for anyone who does a lot of writing in their work.

What can the software now do? While you have to treat the manufacturers' claims cautiously, users can achieve very high accuracy and speed without having to spend a lot of time training the software or large amounts of cash on additional hardware. 


Some useful considerations in getting hold of the software include:

Accuracy – look at how accurate the software will be (cheaper versions are not always as accurate)

Additional microphone – you may need to purchase one in addition to the software to maximise accuracy. A high quality microphone can make a dramatic difference to recognition quality.

Time – you may need to spend time teaching the software special phrases. Once taught, the software is pretty accurate at dealing with this.

Dictation style -the training materials often tell you that you should dictate as if you were a newscaster reading the news. The software won't work well if you don't speak clearly

Training the software

Before starting to use a voice recognition program you have to read out a document that is presented on the screen. This training process can be an issue for people who are not fluent readers. Ideas to get a round this include:


Making Corrections

Words are correctly spelled, but there will be some misrecognised words which will be difficult to spot:


Using Text-to-Speech with Voice Recognition Software

NaturallySpeaking Preferred and ViaVoice have speech output facilities that will help many users. Once text has been recognised the user can:

Other sources of information about speech-to-text computer software:

Dragon Instructions



Text read aloud

There are a variety of different programs available on the market which read back text, but the additional features vary.

The choice of software depends very much on the extent of individual students' specific difficulties along with their preferred learning style and previous support and experiences.

Medium tech/ low cost

Read back programs are used by students to hear their own work read back. Rather than just reading over their own work and reading what they think they wrote, they actually hear the words as they are highlighted. This can often assist with identifying errors more efficiently, for example, inappropriate words, words missed out or incorrect spelling. It can also help to identify areas that do not sound right due to a lack of flow or words in the wrong order or incorrect endings. A superior spell checker, devised to help identify dyslexic spellings, also picks up more errors and provides more options than the well known Word spell checker. An additional feature is its ability to list a selection of alternative words to replace simplistic language or when word finding difficulties arise.

Examples include:

It is sometimes possible to download free trials of the software from the sites listed above.


High tech/ high cost

A more sophisticated version such as TextHelp Read & Write Gold, will also scan in text and read it back. This is often very beneficial for students who find reading text a slow and laborious process, have to reread for comprehension and have difficulties with pronunciation and recognition. Often they are able to comprehend and learn more quickly if they hear the information read to them as opposed to having to read and decode words for themselves. There are many other features with this, but the reading function tends to be one of the most useful for students with specific learning difficulties.

Some examples include:

TextHelp Read and Write Gold

Read and Write Gold instructions




Sound recording machines

Sound recording machines can be useful for the following:

Low cost/ low tech

Simple dictation machines can be obtained for around £20 (UK price, Dec 2006). These have small tapes and have the capacity to be used for simple recording of thoughts and playback. They do not have sufficient microphones to pick up sound in meetings or lectures however. To obtain one, try a high street electrical retailer or catalogue store. An example recommended by is the Sony TCM450DV

Medium tech/ medium cost

Digital recording devices allow high quality sound capture, but are more limited in terms of file conversion or additional features. An example recommended by is the Sharp MD-MT290H (S) Personal Minidisk £70


High tech/ high cost

Digital recorders enable higher quality sound capture, particularly if used with an additional external microphone. The cost of the recording devices is roughly £150 and around £50-£80 for a high quality external microphone.

Some recording devices are compatible with speech to text software and record in Digital Speech Standard(DSS) which can be used by Via Voice speech recognition or converted to WAV files for Dragon Dictate Naturally Speaking.

Some examples are listed below with annotations based on information available at

The Olympus DM-1 digital voice recorder and music player supports both MP3 and WMA files. The recorder has an internal speaker, microphone and headphone jack and takes batteries. It has an LCD display which shows file information and recording settings and the buttons control single actions so the recorder is not entirely menu driven. There is an external power source through a connecting AC Adapter (sold separately). It is easy to hold the recorder in the palm of the hand and it feels relatively robust. It is suitable for both lectures and tutorials as well as personal notes for speech recognition. The MP3 player can store approximately 60 minutes of music on 64 MB at 128 kbps. The system provides 3D sound quality due to the WOW technology, and the player also has equalising, repeat and random play functions.  This model is currently the most likely to be recommended as part of the Disabled Students Allowance in the UK

Other available models include:

Please note, that not all are compatible with Dragon and Via Voice software. It is advisable to think carefully about how you might use a dictation machine as there are several hundreds to choose from and to carefully look at the features, prices and designs of the available models.




Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs)


A PDA is an electronic personal organiser. They can be a  good way of overcoming some of the organisational difficulties associated with Dyslexia. There are lots of different models available. There are two main operating systems that dominate the market (Palm OS and Windows mobile) For more information on the pros and cons of the Operating Systems, see


Medium tech/ medium cost

Just about every PDA on the market will have the following characteristics and features:

High tech/ high cost

Some more expensive models have additional features, for example:

Software available for PDAs includes:


Other useful features available in the more expensive PDAs include:

As an alternative to a PDA, you may also wish to consider a Smartphone. These are new generation mobile phones with additional features.



Other assistive technology

There is a huge range of support software and devices available to support individual needs, for example trackerballs and ergonomic mice and keyboards for the computer and typing tutors.


There are two good sources as follows that aim to provide information about the resources available:

Techdis (this includes the main resources and product specifications and features) (this includes product comparisons and reviews)



McLoughlin et al (2002) The Adult Dyslexic: interventions and outcomes

London: Whurr