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KeyboardMike: how I invented a microphone for speech recognition

Getting high levels of accuracy in the words you dictate into a email client, website text box, or document on a computer with speech recognition applications is no easy task. Tech companies that make voice dictation apps, like Microsoft’s Voice Typing tool, Apple’s Voice Control, and Nuance Dragon Professional, don’t manufacture microphones and often they will offer up the impression that all the magic, when it comes to accuracy, happens in their applications. They even suggest the internal microphones on computers, or wireless earbuds, are all you need for accurate speech recognition. However, from my experience the situation is more complicated. The quality and characteristics of the microphone you use plays a significant role in accurate voice dictation. After all, the better the...

Apple adds useful new feature to Mac Voice Control but didn’t tell anyone

The third update to macOS Monterey for Mac computers was released last week. Among the headline grabbing new software tricks in macOS 12.3 is Universal Control, a feature that lets you control multiple Macs and iPads using a single mouse, keyboard, and trackpad. However, another feature of interest to Mac accessibility users made a quieter debut in macOS 12.3. Although it wasn’t shown in the release notes, its been added in macOS Monterey 12.3. Voice Control is designed to allow people to control their Mac using voice commands, rather than a mouse or trackpad. Text can also dictated rather than typed. Both features are important to those who don’t have full use of their arms. Voice Control and dictation on Apple devices work offline. However, this causes a problem when you replace yo...

iOS 15.4 update: Face ID works again for CPAP mask wearers

This week has seen Apple release iOS 15.4 for iPhone users. It’s a big update that brings quite a few useful new features to the iPhone, including the ability to turn off notifications for personal automations in Shortcuts, and 37 new emoji. One of the biggest feature updates for me is a new option in iOS 15.4 to unlock your iPhone while wearing a mask with no additional hardware like the Apple Watch required. Last September, I highlighted how Apple made some changes to the iPhone 13 Face ID setup in terms of both hardware and software, which caused problems for some disabled people who wear Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) masks to assist with their breathing. After upgrading to a new iPhone 13 Pro I found Face ID registration was failing when I was wearing my CPAP mask – ...

Overdue Apple Voice Control upgrade should include better dictation accuracy

Apple operating systems and apps face various performance and reliability issues: AirPlay reliability when connecting multiple HomePods, a HomeKit bug that can kill iOS devices, and more… However, what no one, (apart from disabled users), ever talks about is how buggy, unreliable and inaccurate dictation is in Voice Control, the company’s flagship speech recognition application for disabled people with upper limb mobility impairments. With Voice Control, Apple says you can navigate and interact with your iPhone, iPad or Mac computer using your voice to tap, swipe, dictate and more. The application was unveiled in 2019, to much fanfare on stage at Apple’s WWDC 2019 conference for developers and this was just a few months after Nuance removed support for its then leading Dragon s...

Apple accessibility 2021: the good and the bad

Autumn has been a busy period for Apple. Following a summer of beta testing it released major updates to its operating systems, including iOS 15, watchOS 8, and macOS Monterey. The company also released a bunch of new hardware, including iPhone 13, Apple Watch Series 7, AirPods 3 and new Apple Silicon MacBook Pro laptops. Over the past few weeks, I have managed to get my hands on the new iPhone 13 Pro, Apple Watch Series 7, and AirPods 3 and have been trying them out along with iOS 15 and watchOS 8. Here’s my experience of how accessible Apple gear is in 2021 for anyone who uses a wheelchair and has limited use of their hands. Auto-answer A new option to have calls answered automatically with the introduction of a auto-answer feature on the Apple Watch cellular has been one of the st...

TwistMike review (VIDEO)

Freedom: the ability to do what I want to do, when I want to do it, with the minimum of fuss. It’s what I value most in life. And Speechware’s TwistMike means I get to enjoy a lot more freedom. I have muscular dystrophy, which means I can’t take to the keyboard to type emails, Facebook updates, or WhatsApp messages – things we all take for granted these days. Instead, I use speech recognition software like Nuance’s Dragon Professional, and Apple’s Voice Control app, to get things done. Whilst I have been using the TwistMike as a table microphone plugged into SpeechWare’s 9 in 1 TableMike base you can also use it around your neck, or even clamped to a wheelchair. It offers freedom and comfort because you don’t have to wear anything on your head and in your ears, no battery to charge, ...

SpeechWare USB TravelMike review

Last year I reviewed the TwistMike by SpeechWare, a company with a strong reputation for professional microphones in the speech recognition industry. I was amazed at the accuracy of my voice dictation when using the company’s longest and most flexible microphone boom. The TwistMike solved a problem I’d been experiencing for a long time; being unable to sit comfortably close enough to the microphone capsule to help with accurate voice dictation when using speech recognition applications like Dragon Professional, and Apple’s Voice Control. However, whilst the TwistMike certainly helps with getting close, it does come with one fairly major compromise – and that’s the amount of deskspace it takes up. It’s a large beast at 30 inches long and takes up quite a lot of...

WWDC 2021: accessibility at Apple goes mainstream

At its WWDC event last week, Apple unveiled the latest versions of its major operating systems: iOS 15, iPadOS 15, MacOS Monterey and WatchOS 8. While these updates include some eagerly-anticipated new features — like enhanced privacy options, FaceTime calls coming to Android users and dual-screen controls for working across Macs and iPads – there were some features that didn’t get highlighted as accessibility features in the keynote but will be extremely useful for people with physical disabilities. Here are some of the software features and tools coming to your Apple devices later this year that will be a boon for some in the disability community. Announce Notifications It may not be immediately obvious that there were any big, new accessibility announcements at WWDC 2021, (A...

Apple Announces AssistiveTouch for Apple Watch

Apple has just announced a range of new accessibility features that are designed for people with mobility, vision, hearing, and cognitive disabilities. One of the most interesting concerns the Apple Watch. Following a software update later this year, people with upper limb mobility problems should be able to use AssistiveTouch for Apple Watch to control the wrist-worn device without touching the display or controls. The company says the Apple Watch will soon be able to detect muscle movement and tendon activity through its built-in gyroscope and accelerometer sensors, allowing users to control a cursor on the watch screen, answer calls, access notifications, and more by making various movements and gestures. (You can see the new capabilities in action in this video) A long time coming The ...

8 ways for Apple to be more disability aware

Global Accessibility Awareness Day is in its tenth year of promoting digital access and inclusion for the more than one billion people worldwide with disabilities. Apple is celebrating the day by making its most popular virtual Today at Apple sessions even more accessible with sessions presented in sign language. It has to be said the Cupertino company has certainly been punching its weight recently as accessibility for disabled iPhone users received a major boost with the release of iOS 14.5. The update now lets users answer phone calls using Siri voice commands hands-free without having to touch anything. The option is part of the Announce Calls with Siri feature, which lets you hear the name of who is calling when using AirPods, the company’s popular headphones. However, as well as tell...

Domiciliary care ignored by the vaccine rollout

Nadhim Zahawi, the Minister for Covid-19 Vaccine Deployment, has said he is confident the government will meet its vaccine targets. The first of these targets that government ministers have set themselves is to vaccinate the following priority groups identified by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) by 15 February: • Residents in a care home for older adults and their carers • All those 80 years of age and over and frontline health and social care workers • All those 75 years of age and over • All those 70 years of age and over and clinically extremely vulnerable individuals Under the rollout, the government hopes to offer almost 15 million people in these first four priority groups a vaccine by mid-February. To stay on track, two million jabs a week will need to be ...

Digital divide: disabled people and Covid-19

For some, being forced to stay home and work remotely via Zoom during the Covid-19 pandemic has been a temporary reprieve from the daily commute. Employers have supported workers to work from home, and for those with the technology, and an income from employment, the inconveniences of the Covid lockdowns have been eased. For others there has been little support and Coronavirus has brought into sharp focus the digital divide that exists in the UK. Poorer parents have struggled to afford laptops and broadband connections to help school their children at home, and families have found it difficult to keep in touch with loved ones locked down in care homes and Covid wards. According to the Office of National Statistics disability is one of the main factors that influence the digital divide in t...