Speech recognition software can be life-changing

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 21, 2012

Over a month before I attempted to write this story, I injured my right index finger trying to pull a leaf from a rhododendron bush. The blooms had been huge and gorgeous but some of the leaves were turning brown with yellow spots. I didn’t want to lose the bush to any type of disease so I planned to take the leaf to someone who knows more about plants than I do.
Oh… if I had just left the plant the way it was; but like the old adage, “curiosity killed the cat,” one might say my finger is dead! After several attempts to pull the leaf off, I held the limb with my left hand and twisted and pulled the leaf again with my right thumb and index finger.
Pain shot through my thumb and ran out to the end of my trigger finger. The thumb continued to move but the finger went stiff and I can only bend it by using the other hand. Some of you might be wondering what has been done.
After visits to my family physician, a surgeon and my neurologist, my finger still will not bend. After having an MRI and a nerve conduction study, there is still no diagnosis. Neither of these doctors has ever seen an injury quite like this.
I am learning to print using my three other fingers and thumb, but if one could see the mess I made trying to write the rough draft…woe is me!
Of course, the next problem was in trying to type. I cringe every time I hit the wrong key but as I had been told, it is easier to correct errors on the computer than the typewriters that I used for so long.
Writing, coloring, and typing have been my blessing since the major multiple sclerosis attack in 2002. Coloring is impossible right now, but I found a new way to make cards for the soldiers…I can use the flowers from the dollar stores and glue dots to place them on the cards. I have been getting a lot of encouragement about how pretty those cards turn out and other ladies continue to recycle the cards that folks keep sending.
Every time I reach for something with my thumb and index finger, I automatically drop whatever it is. When I dropped a box of toothpicks, I was reminded of the movie, Rain Man. Dustin Hoffman played Raymond who was the brother of Charlie played by Tom Cruise. Raymond had autism but was an autistic savant who was brilliant with numbers. When a box of new toothpicks was dropped, he mumbled that the total on the floor was 246.
Charlie didn’t think he really knew what he was talking about until the waitress told him there were only four left in the box of 250!
Then I dropped a box of the little jewels that I use on the cards for the soldiers. They scattered everywhere and were impossible to pick up with my right hand; a broom and dustpan took care of that!
So as usual, I have to try to make lemonade out of lemons. All these years of having limited use of my legs, I’ve been so thankful that I still had my vision and could use my hands. But I remembered once when my son-in-law and I had talked about what I would do if I ever lost use of my hands. So now it was time for me to research the possibilities we had discussed.
I just happened to be talking to someone who knew about the North Carolina Assistive Technology Program. He put me in touch with Paul Eklund in the office in Winston-Salem. After our phone conversation, Paul invited me to come to the Assistive Technology Service to learn what is available there.
(Assistive Technology or “AT” is any piece of equipment or device that a person with a disability uses to make everyday living easier and be more independent.
As I sat waiting for Benita VanWinkle, a photographer who was coming to take pictures, I watched people with all types of disabilities coming and going. To some of them, I’m sure I must have looked perfectly healthy. Many struggled to walk with prosthesis or crutches as I sat in the shade on my scooter. (Of course, I noticed that most of them had someone with them, though I had driven there alone.)
About two hours spent with Paul at no charge and the introduction to “Dragon Naturally Speaking” were two of the most interesting and inspiring things I have experienced in a very long time.
Paul thought my voice was very clear and that I pronounced words quite distinctly. I found it interesting to read the first page of the story using a conversational tone; it printed out with no errors. On the second page, Paul asked me to say things like “tab, comma, exclamation point, and periods.”
It was interesting that when I was ready to start, I had to say “Wake up.”
Before I finished reading the second page, I started talking to Paul, and it printed everything I said until we all laughed and remembered I had forgotten to close with “Go to sleep.”
I will definitely have a lot to learn but am so thankful that the cost of this assistive piece of technology has dropped from around $2,000 to $100.
That will better fit my budget.
Paul has a prosthesis so he understands disability. In spite of the aggravation of the injured finger, I was blessed once again to meet someone with a good job who looks forward to going to work for the purpose of helping people like me.
Linda Beck lives in Woodleaf.