As a writer with quadriplegic cerebral palsy who types with one finger, navigating the world of assistive technology can be a daunting task, and finding my set took me years of trial and error. Now I use a combination of Dragon NaturallySpeaking, TextExpander and CoWriter.

Dragon NaturallySpeaking Professional Individual for Mac 6.0

I tried many versions of Dragon NaturallySpeaking and with every attempt became more discouraged because I also have a speech impediment and the program struggled to understand me. I invested hours training the software to recognize my dictation with dismal results. But recently, encouraged by fellow members of the Here and Now group, I gave Dragon NaturallySpeaking Professional Individual for Mac 6.0 a try. It was hard to find a copy as it is only available for PC as of 2018. I searched on Amazon and there were three copies left in stock, so I bought one.

Following the advice of a friend from the Here and Now – Washington Paralysis Network to get a quality microphone, I started to think about the type of microphones that I had used with previous versions of Dragon and why they did not work well for me. My right hand got tired from holding a handheld, and Bluetooth headsets make my ears turn red. This time, I decided to use a USB desktop microphone sold by Beisiwoo that I bought for less than $20, and it’s working for me. The voice recognition is pretty decent, though it’s prone to misrecognizing corrections.

Dragon NaturallySpeaking Professional Individual for Mac 6.0 helps me to write twice as fast as compared to typing with just my index finger, and it works right out of the box. However, it’s a stripped-down version of the software as compared to the PC version and its ability to learn new words is minimal. Also, the Mac Status Bar only displays the microphone button, different modes for dictation, and a correction window. The program shuts down without warning and generates an automatic email to be sent to Nuance. This is inconvenient because it happens in the middle of my dictation.

The software is glitchy but using it has been worth the setbacks because it has proven that dictation works for me. For some, running Windows on their Mac using Parallels may help.

Here is a Dragon tutorial:

And here is a video on how to run Windows on a Mac:

TextExpander and CoWriter Universal

Although I have recently added Dragon NaturallySpeaking to my AT suite, transcription technologies are integral to my writing process. I use TextExpander and CoWriter Universal. TextExpander is a cloud-based software that allows me to type self-made, shorthand macros called “text snippets” to write out large chunks of text. For example, I can type SPSIG anywhere in a document, and the following appears, “Sincerely, Cristina Cortez.”

Up to this point, I have created about 300 macros. These snippets can be as short or long as I need them to be, and there is no limit to the amount I can create since they are all saved to the cloud.

Here’s a good intro:

Likewise when using CoWriter Universal by Don Johnston Inc., I type the first two or three letters of the word I want to write and immediately a numbered list from one to nine appears. From that list, I type the number of the word I want to use to build my sentence. I then type the appropriate punctuation, and the sentence immediately appears in my Pages document, as if written by an invisible hand. The software comes with three basic dictionaries: 6K words for beginning writers, 12K words for intermediate writers, and 40K words for advanced writers. The 40K words allows me to write with a variety of sentence structures to develop my style, while growing my dictionary by adding new words.

Also, this software has a selection of built-in voices to choose from for auditory feedback. I use the Australian female voice, “Karen.” This one is best for me because the American voices (male or female) are sharp for my ears, and the standard synthetic ones are robotic.

CoWriter Universal makes the act of typing the words easier but interferes with the mechanics of writing. My first draft is always full of omitted words, typos, punctuation, and grammatical errors. As I write, I see the errors, but I choose not to correct them. If I do, CoWriter becomes slow in its transcription time. Also, it may delete the part of the sentence that follows the mistakes. For individuals with more efficient motor skills, these corrections are not a big deal, but I only use my index finger — inefficient as it is, it’s the best I have. So, I produce a “messy draft,” and I revise and rework what I have written by hand.

Here’s a quick demo:

Before I found Dragon NaturallySpeaking Professional Individual for Mac 6.0 TextExpander, and CoWriter Universal, I used to get ticked off with my index finger. Learning to use these software packages has shown me that it doesn’t matter how I do what I do — it only matters that I do it.