Monday, August 26, 2013

Working with Speech Recognition: Dragon Naturally Speakng

I have partial paralysis to my left extremities, so typing is a challenge because I have no finger dexterity on my left hand. I used to be able to type by touch at around 50 wpm, but now I rely solely on my right hand and I am constantly looking at the keyboard as I type. Although I use all 5 fingers, my speed is still just around 25-30 wpm, and I tend to hit a lot of wrong keys while looking back-and-forth from the keyboard to screen, which means I’m heavily relying on the backspace key.

So, while I was studying medical transcription, I searched for and decided on a speech recognition program, Dragon Naturally Speaking. The first time I ever used any speech recognition program was back in the mid 90’s, and the program was a total pain to use. I found it better to one-finger hen-peck the keyboard than to try to write anything using that frustrating thing. The program constantly picked up nonsensical words, about 70% of the time. I’ve lived in the California since I was 7 years old, and after 39 years, I really doubt the problem would be any lingering accent.

Anyway, I had originally purchased the $99 Dragon Naturally Speaking Premium Version 11 from Amazon. I was impressed. I cannot say that I was completely thrilled with the product. But, compare to the speech recognition program I used prior, it was several hundred times superior. It still needed some tweaking though, but honestly I cannot say that the problem was all because of Dragon.

To start, I had to purchase a new laptop because Dragon would not load in my old laptop, purchased in 2001, it did not have enough memory.  I bought and loaded Dragon onto my new laptop, completed the initialization setup, had my headset that came in the package on, opened up MS Word and started. Fifteen minutes later, I was at the point of picking up my new laptop and fling it across the room, but patience acquired by age prevailed, and I just shut everything down and had ice cream. Dragon was picking up what I was saying very well, but the frustration was that after a sentence or two, I would see that tiny twirling circle (that I would come to hate) telling me the program was working on something. So, I waited. Twenty seconds later the words appeared. I said another few words and waited again. Every time the wait became longer and longer, until that circle of frustration just kept twirling endlessly.

Thank goodness I had the help of a vocational rehab counselor who was familiar with Dragon. After a couple of training sessions and the continued lagging from Dragon, we decided to upgrade the version of  MS Word that came with my laptop, get a noise-reducing headset and upgrade Dragon to version 12. After all the upgrades, everything worked amazingly. Dragon is continuously learning from every use. I had uploaded medical documents and Dragon would scan through them and add to its vocabulary. Dragon would also learn how I pronounce words, which came in handy on those really long and tongue twisting medical terms. Overall, Dragon is a great product but you really need someone familiar with it when you run into trouble. It really saves you a lot of frustration. I think Dragon is great!  Overall, it is a wonderful product especially for individuals with paralysis. 

However, although I would use Dragon for repetitive reports, translating documents and transcribing dictations, but I still personally prefer typing by hand when I am writing articles from scratch. It’s just easier for me, especially because, creating and typing is such a stop-and-go and deleting process for me. I think it’s mainly just a habit for me. I just have a hard time trying to think of what to write and dictate it at the same time. It’s very distracting for me. So, I still prefer and rely on one-handed typing. Look for my review on one-handed keyboards in the future.

Monday, August 12, 2013

My Life with Paralysis

Why am I journeying into this world of blogs? There are many reasons but the two foremost are, one to create a site where people with disabilities can obtain information and feel a sense normality.  Secondly, to force me to write on a daily basis, because reading and writing have always been an important part of my survival throughout the years.

I am a 45-year old (46 in a week), Korean-American mom of 2 children, a daughter who is 14 and a son who is 12. I have been single for 2-½ years after a 20-year marriage.  I have been living with partial spinal paralysis since 1994, when I became one of the many causalities of a drunk driver who fell asleep at the wheel. The accident resulted in a fracture to my C5 and a burst fracture in the L1 region of the spine, when the car roof collapsed after being pushed off the freeway and rolling down the embankment. I am not an authority in spinal paralysis, nor do I hold any degrees or certifications, but I am writing based on my years of living with spinal paralysis.

Although my injury left me with many physical limitations, I am a much happier person now than before the accident. Call it what you want, divine intervention or whatever, but ever since waking up in a drugged haze at the hospital and finding out I could not move from the neck down, all the mental and emotional issues that made my life a never-ending roller coaster ride of emotional up, down and twists just faded away. The childhood pains no longer drove my life. The pain that drove me to seek psychologists to deal with my erratic emotions just disappeared. No, I did not see angels, bright lights or any other divine images. There was just awakening to voices in the pitch black as paramedics pried us out of our car to the voices of the emergence room staff as they try to get a tube down my throat. Finally to wake up in a drugged haze in my hospital bed listening to hissing and clicks of machines as I was rocked side-to-side in my hospital bed.

I never really went through the trauma of, “Oh my God, how am I going to live?” There was just too much things happening and being heavily medicated, the fact of being paralyzed from the neck down did not fully compute yet (not to say there was never any tears.) The first month I was in a daze of people coming in-and-out, of me being rolled from room-to-room and finally being transport to a rehab facility. During my stay at rehab, my spouse was there every day helping me all day. So, after my 4-month stay, I left rehab in a one-handed wheelchair. I had regained function to my right limbs and was able to stand and shift unto my wheelchair. I was also fitted with a KFO orthotics (leg brace that goes from above the knee to foot.) From that point, since I could not afford physical therapy, it was the gym for regular aerobic and strength training. Now, with eating right and regular exercise, I wear only an AFO (a brace that goes from below knee to foot) and I no longer have the wheelchair. I can lead a fairly normal life.

Well, this was just a brief story of where I am coming from. I hope that what I post and send out to this amazing place call the web, I can reach and maybe help, in any small way, to motivate another who is dealing with similar issues.