The Pros and Cons of Using Dragon Naturally Speaking Software in a Special Education Setting

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First Principles

The speech recognition system, Dragon Naturally Speaking, provides a system for a computer user to ‘speak’ to their computer and in doing so, create text on the screen.

It is a life changing experience for some computer users, as it may be the first time they are able to independently create text in Word, communicate via email, write letters, enter search terms into Google or create a PowerPoint slide, or do the thousand other tasks that have somehow become a part of the student day. This can be especially true in a special education setting, when touch typing or even basic keyboarding, has been difficult for a student to master.

The software program is simple in principle:

  • The user wears a headset fitted with a microphone
  • The headset connects to the computer
  • The computer has the Dragon program loaded onto it
  • The Dragon toolbar appears and the Dragon is told to ‘wake up’
  • The user speaks into the microphone and the text appears

What You Need to Know

As with most technology, and particularly with a speech recognition system, there are a few items to be aware of:

  1. Make sure your computer is up to the job. Some older computers may struggle to cope with the Dragon software.
  2. Students need to be able to deal with a certain amount of frustration, text errors, revisions of their work, and some downright comedic problems as they become competent Dragon users.
  3. The initial tasks to set up the program for a new user are quite complex, and students need to be able to read a lengthy passage of set text out loud, with few reading errors. Keep this in mind when recommending the program for students with cognitive deficits.
  4. It takes time to ‘teach’ the program your voice style, and to help it recognize how you say certain words, which can be a frustrating experience for some students.
  5. There will be students who may not enjoy speaking their text out loud. In addition, having a student speaking aloud can be distracting to other students in a classroom situation.
  6. Students need to be able to cope physically and cognitively with spending a fair amount of time using a computer and interacting closely with the technology.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line with using the Dragon speech recognition system in a Special Education setting is this:

  • Make sure it is a better option than what your students are currently using, and that it is worth the price tag.
  • If it meets your students’ needs and offers them independence and the ability to communicate electronically with freedom and confidence - go for it!
  • If it creates frustration, distress or anger, or causes families to feel they too have to part with valuable household funds to buy a home version of the program, think again. There are other options (scribing, using a head pointer, using scrolling text on a screen) which can be more suited to the needs of some students.