By Maureen McTaggart
What are the odds that, without checking your diary, you can remember exactly what you were doing at 5am on July 15? Jane Scaysbrook can. The former Senco, now an independent assessor for students with specific learning difficulties, was sitting way above the ground on the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square, writing an article about what she could see from her vantage point.
Without her fingers ever touching the keyboard of the laptop, she completed “The view from the Plinth”, proofread it and an hour later got down to make way for the next living monument. It was all done using Nuance's Dragon NaturallySpeaking, the voice-recognition package that enabled her to speak the words of the article into a microphone and watch them appear as text on the screen Voice recognition technology has come a long way. What used to be a hit-and-miss affair now provides, thanks to products like the latest version of Dragon (10), high levels of accuracy and “has brought a massive change to my life”, says Jane Scaysbrook.
“It saves hours of time. What you say comes up on the screen and you can speak four times faster than you can type. Every time they bring out a new version it’s better and better than the previous version. I've been using it since version 7 and I am now on version 10. But you do have to learn to speak like a weather forecaster. Once you get your head around that it’s just amazing.”
Jane Scaysbrook’s 34-year secondary school teaching career has included specialising in PE, mathematics and later on special needs where she rose to become the school’s SENCO. She says she has seen students’ lives transformed by voice recognition and cites the example of a student she worked with who “was totally dyslexic, right at the bottom of the continuum for reading, but bright as a button, and voice recognition transformed her life.” The student used Dragon to write her A-level examinations, and went on to study at Reading University – an achievement that would otherwise have been unthinkable. By eliminating the worries about spelling that often prevent the bright dyslexic or dyspraxic student to use the advanced vocabulary they are capable of, it gives them the freedom to express themselves more fluently, she says.
There are still a few 'ostriches' out there
“When you speak a word into Dragon it picks it up and students can’t believe it when they first use it. The other day I told the parents of a 15-year-old boy who suffers with dyspraxia about Dragon NaturallySpeaking. They went straight out and brought it and that same evening, the boy emailed me using Dragon. He has gone from strength to strength, but you've got to want it to happen.”
It saddens her though that there are still a few “ostriches” out there. “By the time I left full-time teaching (last year) there were 25 people in my department and I spent a day training them to use the Dragon NaturallySpeaking programme. I found that the new graduates in the group picked it up much quicker: 50 per of the total found it really useful; 10 per cent thought 'Oh God I wish this day was over.' But there are some who now use it all the time.”
After “jumping through that final hoop” last December and qualifying as an assessor, she now works for the Broxbourne Dyslexia Unit (part of the British Dyslexia Association), where she is employed to assess learners including university students and adults who may have a learning disability, such as dyslexia, dyspraxia or dyscalculia.
Learners are assessed with a whole battery of tests and, if she finds there is a learning disability, then the necessary adjustments programme of support to accommodate the student can be put in place. University students with an identified learning disability are entitled to at least £5,800 worth of support. This can be for equipment or to pay for one-to-one support.
“You have to be able to stand up in court to justify your recommendations so your reports have to be watertight. Students are assessed with a whole battery of tests, which takes about three hours, after which you have to write up a very detailed report, which would have taken ages if you weren't using Dragon.
It only needs 15 minutes to voice train. I once read a whole page of the Telegraph into the voice recorder, plugged it in and within two minutes it was complete and 98 per cent accurate."
Every school should have appropriate assistive technologies
Jane Scaysbrook, who describes herself as a “very expired teacher who saw the door” (she left teaching without a job to go to), says her greatest pleasure in life is enabling people. “That's where I get my buzz. To confirm someone has a learning disability when, for years, they had thought they were thick, is so empowering.”
She believes every school should have the appropriate assistive technologies, especially voice recognition, but they need to “understand that it takes a bit of effort and persistence to use successfully. These technologies are relatively cheap but they can make a big difference to a child’s academic performance.”
She talks about the relief one 63-year-old woman (who was never told she had a learning difficulty) experienced when her test results showed she was hugely dyslexic. Together they got through a whole box of tissues.
Even though “The View From The Plinth” was snapped up by Bloor Research, an IT research, analysis and consultancy, for its website, she says it wasn't very good. “The editor pulled out the best bits for publication. But I wasn't intent on becoming a writer. It was only a bit of fun and I really just wanted my day on the plinth to be about something that was very much a part of my life. And anyway as it was one person at time, they wouldn't let my friends join me to play bridge, the other love of my life."
Video of Jane on the Plinth
January 13-16, Olympia, London
You can find out more about Dragon NaturallySpeaking, including new developments like using it with Photoshop, from Nuance on the Microlink stand at BETT. Stand L40.