August 4, 2010

Use Voice Recognition Software and a PC Writing Tablet to Reduce Repetitive Motion

I've got my fair share of repetitive motion problems: I've got arthritis in my knuckles; I've had tendinitis in my hands for ages; I've got some symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome, and I've got some kind of shoulder injury (a torn rotator cuff, I think). It hurts to type or manipulate the mouse. Thing is, my job requires quite a bit of typing and mouse-manipulating. Worse than that, I love to spend time on my computer when I'm at home -- during my free time. And what do I do there? I type and click the mouse, of course. And it hurts!

Enter Dragon NaturallySpeaking voice recognition software and Wacom's Bamboo PC writing tablet. They're great individually, but together they make a terrific team.

Dragon NaturallySpeaking Voice Recognition Software

Dragon NaturallySpeaking can do my typing for me -- loads of typing. It makes a great alternative to the keyboard and anytime I'm not typing that's helping to reduce further injury due to repetitive motion. (I still type, so it can't STOP repetitive motion injury...not for me, at least.)

Now, it takes a while to get used to working with Naturally Speaking, and, frankly, it takes Naturally Speaking a while to get used to working with you. But, once you get used to each other, your fingers really appreciate not having to do all that typing.

ADVANTAGES

  • It saves wear and tear on your knuckles and fingers and wrists
  • It never misspells a word
  • It types much faster than you could with your fingers
  • If you get the premium version, you can create macros that type commonly-written items by saying one or two words (you can make it type entire paragraphs by saying a certain "code" word -- if you wish)

DISADVANTAGES

  • It takes a while to get used to thinking about what you're going to type while speaking instead of typing (this was quite difficult for me...and sometimes still is. I just find it so much easier to think about what I'm writing when I'm typing rather than when I'm speaking.)
  • You have to be in a really quiet place...preferably in a room whose door you can close.
  • While it never misspells anything, it can correctly spell a load of nonsense that's not remotely related to what you said (but that actually sounds a lot like what you said).
  • Worse...it can almost type what you said...leaving out a "the" or typing "you" instead of "you've"...you have to proofread everything it types.
  • Speaking clearly and loudly enough for the software to understand you can become quite tiring after a little while.
  • If you have arthritis in your jaw or TMJ, it simply moves the problem from your knuckles to your jaw. I'm pretty certain I have TMJ -- and possibly arthritis -- in my jaw, and, after a good little while of using NaturallySpeaking I can end up with sore jaw joints.

The disadvantages are probably making it sound a lot worse than it is. All in all, NaturallySpeaking really is a great alternative to typing and, therefore, a great relief to my knuckles at home. I wish I could use it on my job, too, where I also do a lot of typing, but that's just not gonna happen anytime soon.

HOME VS. PREMIUM

Most people are going to be interested in the home and premium versions. Typically, there is about $100 difference between the premium and the home versions. And, back when I first started with NaturallySpeaking (version 8), I opted for the preferred version (that would be called the "premium" version now). However, when I ended up needing to install voice recognition software on another computer (version 10 was available by that time), I decided to go for the standard version (now called the "home" version), which turned out to be all I needed, and I use it for typing articles like this, for typing e-mails, and even for coding in HTML and C# (a programming language).

The premium version does have some extra features that some people might find beneficial, though. For one thing, it allows you to connect a digital voice recorder so you can transcribe recordings, which could be quite useful for a secretary, for example. So, just for that, I think many businesses would benefit from using the premium version. It can also read back text, which I guess could be useful for some people under certain circumstances.

PROFESSIONAL, MEDICAL, AND LEGAL VERSIONS

Nuance, the company that makes the NaturallySpeaking voice recognition software, also offers professional, legal, and medical versions. I think that the legal and medical versions offer specialized vocabularies, which I'm sure are quite useful in those industries. I really don't know what benefits one gets from the professional version over the preferred version. What I do know is that the professional version is typically twice as much as the preferred version (that is, around $400). Also, the legal version is more expensive yet, and the medical version is typically over $1000. I'm guessing that the medical version's extensive vocabularies justify the cost. If I were a person considering purchasing NaturallySpeaking for the first time, and I thought that I might need the legal or medical professional versions, I would probably consider purchasing the preferred version first, just to see if perhaps it could fit my needs and also to see if voice recognition software is going to work in my office environment. I would also definitely read reviews of other people who have purchased and used the specialized versions before I shelled out $400-$1200 for the software.

MOUSE MANIPULATION WITH NATURALLYSPEAKING

You can also use NaturallySpeaking to manipulate the mouse with your voice: to move the pointer around on the screen, click on buttons, or whatever. It's actually quite handy for dealing with pop-up dialogs (you can say "click okay" or "click cancel," for example), but, generally mouse manipulation voice recognition software is still a rather clumsy and frustrating experience. It would, I suppose, be a welcome thing for someone who could not manipulate the mouse otherwise for whatever reason, but for me it's frustrating.

But that's where Wacom's Bamboo pc writing tablet comes into play.

Wacom's Bamboo PC Writing Tablet

Wacom Bamboo Pen TabletWacom's Bamboo tablet is a PC writing tablet that basically works as an alternative to the mouse. It lets you move the mouse pointer, it lets you click on buttons, or do anything else that a mouse can do. PC writing tablets are probably more well-known for being used by graphic artists who use art software like Adobe Photoshop because it allows the computer to sense the amount of pressure and because it is more like working with a pencil or pen or brush. However, for me, pc writing tablets, along with being more comfortable to the hand, make a great alternative for the mouse.

ADVANTAGES

  • Giving a pen a quick tap on a PC writing tablet is much easier on my arthritic knuckles than clicking a mouse button
  • It is easier to use certain functions of drawing programs like Corel draw or Adobe Photoshop (I do use such programs)

DISADVANTAGES

  • Keeping my hands gripped around the pen and around the tablet for a long period of time aggravates my arthritis in a different way (for me, the act of gripping something for a long while flares up my arthritis)
  • Moving the pen around, after a prolonged period of time, causes my shoulder injury to flare up.

What I end up doing is alternating between using the mouse and using the Wacom PC writing tablet -- when I get sore using the mouse, I switch to the tablet. When I get sore using the tablet, I switch to the mouse, but I more frequently use the tablet.

I would love to be able to use a PC writing tablet at work. It appears that one of the goals of the people who wrote the various systems I work with at work was to maximize mouse clicks! Seriously!

For my own good, I should probably spend as little of my free time on the computer as possible, but since, right now, my passions drive me to my computer (coding, studying languages, making YouTube tutorial videos, writing articles like these)...using NaturallySpeaking and the Wacom Bamboo PC writing tablet together allows me to spend more time than I could otherwise doing the meaningless things I love to do on my computer.

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