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MGA News

Summer 2001

Life With Gravis - Computer Dictation

M Gravis

My ability to write legibly has been badly affected by MG. For many years now I have only been able to continue to write by employing my `high speed’, two fingered, word-processing skills. When that fails, as in writing cheques so that we don’t suddenly gain a hefty overdraft and leave a smiling, overpaid shopkeeper, I have had to get the long-suffering Mrs Gravis to write for me. Of late, my typing has been getting slower and less accurate. After only a few minutes typing, my fingers ache or will not hit the key that I aimed at.

I have always longed, like a Star Trek character, to be able to talk directly to my computer. I wanted to be able to dictate my letters and see them appear on screen without a lot of physical effort. I have great sympathy with Chief Engineer `Scotty’ of the Starship Enterprise who, travelling back to Earth in the 1960s, found it “rather quaint” that the only communication with a computer was via a mouse and keyboard. I have seen various attempts at what is called speech recognition software, but have always been sceptical as to their accuracy, but I have now braved the unknown and purchased a dictation program. A move that gave Mrs Gravis licence to remind me of all the “good ideas, gadgets and gismos” which, she asserts, fill our loft.

I installed the software, connected the microphone and sat down to read the instructions. I discovered that it has to be trained to recognise each individual users voice. In fact when you start the programme running it asks which user is operating it and loads its memory of that voice. To train it I had to read from text that appeared on the computer screen, the computer compared what I had said with that text. It took some hours, over a period of time, to train it to reliably understand what I was saying. Mrs Gravis made comments along the lines that, she always knew that I worshiped the machine, but me talking to it was the last straw and that I talked more with it than to her. It still makes the odd mistake, but I can train it as I go along and it doesn’t answer back.

Life was now going to be so much easier, at last I would dictate all those letters which I owe my long suffering friends. Mrs Gravis gave a knowing smile, but even she had not foreseen the snag that would be my downfall. I had had the software less than a week, and had begun to get it quite well trained, when I had that father and mother of a head cold. The cold changed my voice so that the computer no longer knew me. The effects of the cold lasted for over a week and so, slow as it was, I had to return to using the keyboard. I have been fortunate that for some years now, MG has not affected my speech, but this cold stimulated the Myasthenia and left my speech slurred. Now, of course, the computer does not understand my myasthenic voice either.

The computer now thinks that three different people use it. The first being my healthy, or as healthy as I ever get, self, no cold, no effects of Myasthenia. The second my slurred self, when the Myasthenia has got my tongue. And the third me with a jolly good head cold. Having said this, if you do have a computer, can speak clearly, or rather are consistent in your speech, then such a program may help with letter writing when your hands and arms are too weak to write or type.

It does pay to check your text carefully, I noticed that, when dictating a letter to the Chairman of our Parish Council, it had heard it as “Chairman of the Pariah Council”, but then perhaps it knows something I don’t.

MGA NEWS Summer 2001
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