I’ve been using Dragon NaturallySpeaking off and on for years. I started in the 90s. In the beginning, I did reviews and covered the advances of voice recognition software. There were other players in the market but Dragon NaturallySpeaking, now owned by Nuance Communications, dominated the field and is the standard by which all others are judged.

DragonThe program began as a way to use your voice to dictate into word-processing software. In the older versions it worked well enough after some training. The newer versions work with very little training compared to the older versions.

The other problem with the older version of Dragon was controlling the computer by voice. It’s known as command-and-control. This function allowed you to launch several programs and switch between them using only your voice. As Dragon continued to develop, the dictation and command and control functions have become almost seamless.

Microsoft Office was the dominant platform for word processing, spreadsheets, presentation and database software. Dragon is written in such a way that you can use voice commands to format text, change font sizes, create tables and highlight text with colors.

When I started losing my sight, I found other uses for Dragon to help me overcome my low vision. By highlighting words, sentences, paragraphs and even entire documents, I could then have it read to me by Dragon. Dragon has a built-in function called Read That. It’s as good a text-to-speech reader as any on the market.

Dragon’s initial market was for doctors, lawyers, academics and those with repetitive stress injury (RSI) which made it painful to use a keyboard. Somewhere along the line, it was decided that Dragon should be mainstreamed. If you’ve seen their commercials lately, the program is geared to everyone. They have students, moms, grandparents, small business owners and anyone else who could be more productive using dictation.

The latest versions can search and navigate the Web by voice. If you have enough vision to highlight text on a webpage, Dragon NaturallySpeaking will read it back to you.

While I’ve been focusing on vision issues I’m cognizant of others with accessibility issues, as well. I recently met a veteran who’s trying to learn how to use Dragon NaturallySpeaking. She told me she has some cognitive issues. The advice she has been getting doesn’t address her difficulties with learning dragon. I think Dragon can help with reading problems, although it is not specifically designed to address cognitive issues.

I have no scientific evidence of this, but the word processor’s spell check and Thesaurus functions helped me to spot errors in my writing that I make over and over. Irony aside, I’m a visual person and constantly seeing those squiggly red lines showed me that I was repeatedly making the same mistakes. For example, I always misspelled judgment. I thought it should have an E after the G. After enough reminders I learned to spell it correctly. While this is purely based on my personal experience, it’s not hard to see that a skilled professional could use Dragon NaturallySpeaking as a tool to help those with some cognitive issues.