Tag Archives: technology

In praise of speech-to-text software

One thing that has helped me quite a bit as a blogger, writer, grad student and person with chronic pain subject to flare-ups has been speech-to-text software. The basic idea is fairly self-evident: You install the software, plug in the headset that comes with it, open up the word processing program of your choice, and start talking.

Repetitive motion is one of those things that can be the bane of one’s existence if that person happens to have chronic pain issues; while there are people who might say, Oh, typing at a computer can’t be that painful or Just work through the pain or some other ridiculous piece of “advice,” typing can, at times, be enormously painful or draining for some folks with pain issues. No matter how much one may want to complete a piece, post or assignment, sometimes it just will not happen due to pain. When it feels like your hands are encased in cement blocks, there is no “working through the pain.” Having your hands and wrists feel like they have been set on fire by pain when you are on a deadline — like a lot of circumstances surrounding pain flares — can be excruciating. It’s kind of like having your hands and wrists feel like the Human Torch, but without any of the cool superpowers.

With speech-to-text, the additional pain brought on by repetitive typing is significantly reduced, as it takes at least some of the typing (but not editing, as I will address below) out of the equation. There are some additional issues to consider, however: one is “fibro fog,” the name given to some of the cognitive effects of a fibromyalgia flare, which can, for the person experiencing the flare, make it difficult to put thoughts, words and sentences together with anything resembling coherency. This is more of a condition issue than one that has to do with typing, but it’s fairly obvious as to how fibro-fog could impact the use of text-to-speech: if your thoughts are jumbled because of pain and fatigue, it’s likely that they will be just as jumbled regardless of whether you are typing or speaking into a text-to-speech headset. I’m fairly lucky with fibro-fog myself, as it tends to be rather mild unless I am experiencing a pain flare that feels closer to acute pain than chronic, but typing is one of those processes that can seem bizarrely confusing during a massive pain flare-up (and the whole “simple things as confusing” side effect is damn near impossible to truly understand unless you’ve been through it).

Of course, there are some aspects of text-to-speech software that are less than perfect: similar to the iPhone’s auto-correct feature (some of the amazing slip-ups of which have been documented by websites such as Damn You Autocorrect),  speech-to-text software can “read” one spoken word or phrase as something else entirely, sometimes producing hilarious (or irritating) fragments that often make no sense within the context of what you are actually writing. My personal favorite thus far has been my speech-to-text program “translating” Judith Butler as Judas butt lark, which made me wonder if I need to work on my pronunciation skills if only for the convenience of my software program.

There is also the cost issue: many speech-to-text software programs are expensive. In a utopia, everyone who could benefit from text-to-speech programs would have a reliable and fairly-priced one ready for use. I’m one of those weirdos who thinks that accessible technology should not be something available only to those who can afford to pay for it, but that, unfortunately, is most likely a long time coming.

Recommended Reading for November 9, 2010

John Keilman for the Los Angeles Times: Technology opens new horizons for disabled

Yet for all of technology’s promised advances, some worry that the cost will keep helpful devices out of many people’s reach. Others are concerned that governments, schools and institutions might think that high-tech gadgetry has relieved them of their responsibility to serve the disabled.

“Technology is not a solution for every problem,” said Paul Schroeder of the American Foundation for the Blind. “It doesn’t replace the need for quality teaching. It doesn’t replace the need to teach social skills.”

Crazy Mermaid at Bipolar: Crazy Mermaid’s Blog: Paranoid Schizophrenia: Worst Disease in the World

During the tail end of my psychotic break with reality, I came to believe that there were zombies after me, ready to kill me in order to take over my body. My fear of them taking over my body eventually became so great that I decided to go to the local hospital emergency room, where I thought I would be safe from them.

Liz Sayce at RADAR Network: Health and safety: Stifling disabled people’s independence?

As politicians queue up to cite ever more ludicrous examples of health and safety excesses – making kids wear goggles to play conkers, cancelling historic Gloucestershire cheese rolling events, stopping trainee hairdressers having scissors – those of us living with health conditions or disability sometimes hesitate about which side of this argument we are on.

On the one hand, selected stories like this, designed to justify scrapping regulation, can – as the NASUWT just put it – play politics with children’s safety or put workers at greater risk. On the other, there is a massive history of health and safety being used as an excuse to stop disabled people from doing things. So – whilst I hesitate to join all the people selecting examples of health and safety excesses – we do need to look them in the eye.

Irish Deaf Kids: The Salamanca Statement and EPSEN Act (2004)

A key point:

“regular schools with this inclusive orientation are the most effective means of combating discriminating attitudes, creating welcoming communities, building an inclusive society and achieving education for all; moreover, they provide an effective education to the majority of children and improve the efficiency & ultimately the cost-effectiveness of the entire education system.”

allama at give the feminist a cigarette: Women as sociological ducks

In The Dustbin of History, Greil Marcus warns of the risk of losing sight of individual genius when talking about the blues: yes, it was created in response to slavery and oppression, but centuries of slavery and oppression only produced one Bessie Smith. Seeing Strange Fruit as the inevitable product of the horrors of American history denies the incredible personal achievement of Billie Holiday. And painting female depression as simply a product of the patriarchy denies the personal experience of mental illness to every single sufferer.

incurable hippie at Where’s the Benefit? Round-Up Post

There are plenty of must-read articles and blog posts which I haven’t had the time or the spoons to cover. All of the following are well worth a look.

Recommended Reading for October 12, 2010

Darshak Sangavi at Slate: Should you crowdsource your medical problems?

To be sure, many patients with complex or poorly understood medical problems like amyotrophic lateral sclerosis congregate in large virtual communities such as PatientsLikeMe, where they share details of their medical treatments and symptoms with each other—and occasionally even launch their own unregulated and informal drug trials. These communities provide some helpful information and support for many people.

brigid at Feminists With FSD: On the FSD hierarchy and why it hurts all of us

A lot of support groups, both on and off the web do not want to recognize women with conditions such as endo as legitimate cases of fsd. We don’t have vulvodynia, vulvular vestibulitis, or vaginismus so we couldn’t possibly go through the same things as women with those conditions. I’m here to change that misconception.

Michael Janger at Abled Body: Web Content Accessibility Law Needs More Brawn

However, the newly accessible video content is only the tip of the iceberg. The major broadcast and cable networks that are covered under the new law produce about 100,000 hours of video content a year from their TV programs. On YouTube — which is not covered by the new law — almost 13 million hours of video content are uploaded annually, and that number is increasing. Over 99% of this Web-exclusive content is not closed-captioned or video-described, nor will it be required to be, under the new law.

Flash Bistrow at Where’s the Benefit?: DLA and work? Who is confused here?

The government has already said that the new medical test is intended to reduce the number of DLA claimants by 20%. But I am not sure how taking benefit from 1 in 5 people will “reduce dependency” (on what?) and “promote work” – indeed, several of the people quoted in my previous article about DLA would have to stop working if they lost that benefit, because they do not have enough energy or capacity to both care for themselves AND go to work. If the government think that turfing disabled people off DLA will suddenly give them the capacity to work, they are very much mistaken. It will just disable them even further.

Sam Roe and Jared S. Hopkins for the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune: The final hours of Jeremiah Clark (major trigger warning for discussion/descriptions of abuse and neglect)

Jeremiah is among 13 children and young adults at the North Side facility whose deaths have led to state citations since 2000, a Tribune investigation has found. Some of these deaths, records show, might have been prevented had officials at the facility taken basic steps, such as closely monitoring residents and their medical equipment.

If you’re on Delicious, feel free to tag entries ‘disfem’ or ‘disfeminists,’ or ‘for:feminists’ to bring them to our attention! Link recommendations can also be emailed to recreading at disabledfeminists dot com. Please note if you would like to be credited, and under what name/site.

Recommended Reading for August 24, 2010

Wheelchair Dancer: Body Matters, Edges, and Disability

We all experience limitations and restrictions.  Not all of those — like not being able to speak a second language — are disabilities.  The second language example is a true comment, and I would have thought that it was a pretty obviously bad comparison.  But it and other similar remarks kept coming up.  In addition to those comments, I was also thinking about a second order of experience: the kind where someone claimed kinship/commonality/knowing what I am going through on the basis of their limiting, but non-disabling experience.  I’m referring to the kind of thing like, for example, comparisons of feeling tired from having flu and the tiredness in chronic fatigue syndromes or, say, multiple sclerosis.  A second example is that feeling sad or disappointed is not the same as the emotion of depression.

Lena at the ch!cktionary: What My Feminist Agenda Looks Like

I reject the argument that feminists can’t fight for women and for poor, queer, disabled, and non-White people. Because guess what? Many women are poor, queer, disabled, and non-White. For them, being part of the latter means many more disadvantages and much more discrimination than just being a woman. A feminist agenda has to recognize that women are not simply all oppressed in the exact same way because they share a gender.

Thea Lim at Racialicious: Sympathy Grifting: The Intersection of Race, Gender, and Fraud

Much of [fraudulent cancer patient Ashley Kirilow’s] success seems attributed to the fact that she easily roused pity with her little lost girl story and her brave smile. Kirilow embodied a version of white womanhood that we want to believe in (or at least we’ve been socially conditioned to embrace it): pretty, plucky, determined, and in need of rescue.

Pam Belluck for the New York Times: Tai Chi Reported to Ease Fibromyalgia

A clinical trial at Tufts Medical Center found that after 12 weeks of tai chi, patients with fibromyalgia, a chronic pain condition, did significantly better in measurements of pain, fatigue, physical functioning, sleeplessness and depression than a comparable group given stretching exercises and wellness education. Tai chi patients were also more likely to sustain improvement three months later.

Jane Hughes for the BBC News: New brain scan to diagnose autism

The Medical Research Council study looked at 20 non-autistic adults and 20 adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

They were initially diagnosed using traditional methods, and then given a 15 minute brain MRI scan. The images were reconstructed into 3D and were fed into a computer, which looked for tiny but significant differences.

A.I. spotlight: Keepon and Paro

At the risk of understatement, exciting things are happening when it comes to robotics and artificial intelligence and the potential applicability of these fields in the lives of PWDs.

[Description: A small, bright yellow robot with two eyes and a black nose stands in front of a white background. Outlined in orange and bright blue, the robot leans slightly to the left while it sits atop a small black pedestal]  Image courtesy of this page on the CMU website.

The little ‘bot pictured above is Keepon, developed by Hideki Kozima and Marek Michalowski at Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute, located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Keepon’s purpose is to interact with children with emotional, neurological or sensory processing disorders, and who otherwise may have difficulty interacting with other children, relatives, or caregivers. However, Keepon has become something of an internet sensation in recent years, most notably when a 2007 video of the robot dancing to Spoon’s “I Turn My Camera On” became extremely popular on YouTube, and inspired a Wired Magazine-backed promo video for Spoon featuring Keepon. As this 2008 excerpt (accessibility warning: video is not close-captioned) from Discovery Channel’s show “The Works” demonstrates, there is quite a bit of potential for Keepon’s original purpose; it may be cute (and a great dancer), but the potential for this sort of technology to help children with disabilities is worth further exploration.

A New York Times article from this past July, written by Amy Harmon, discussed another A.I. creature, Paro, which is made to resemble a seal cub. Paro was first developed by Takanori Shibata, a researcher working at Japan’s national science institute AIST.  The NYT article describes Paro thusly:

Paro is a robot modeled after a baby harp seal. It trills and paddles when petted, blinks when the lights go up, opens its eyes at loud noises and yelps when handled roughly or held upside down. Two microprocessors under its artificial white fur adjust its behavior based on information from dozens of hidden sensors that monitor sound, light, temperature and touch. It perks up at the sound of its name, praise and, over time, the words it hears frequently.

The whole article is worth a read, as it covers the success that some senior residential communities in the U.S. have had with using Paro as an assistive device — sort of akin to animal therapy without an actual animal (which might cause problems for, say, residents with allergy issues) — for some residents.  There is also a video at the NYT’s website (unfortunately, sans transcript) that shows Paro in action. The article also discusses at length some of the benefits of this sort of technology, as well as some of its limitations.

Of course, Keepon and Paro are only two examples of the amazing possibilities of artificial intelligence, and it remains to be seen as to whether this technology — which, like many new technologies, currently comes with a rather hefty price tag — can be made more accessible to people or organizations that cannot afford to pay $6,000 U.S. for a Paro. Hopefully, these A.I. breakthroughs will not be as pricey in the future, and will be made accessible to a wider variety of people — including PWDs.

Recommended Reading for 18 June, 2010

Warning: Offsite links are not safe spaces. Articles and comments in the links may contain ableist, sexist, and other -ist language and ideas of varying intensity. Opinions expressed in the articles may not reflect the opinions held by the compiler of the post and links are provided as topics of interest and exploration only. I attempt to provide extra warnings for material like extreme violence/rape; however, your triggers/issues may vary, so please read with care.

A GI Joe, a male plastic doll with a crewcut, posed to form the American Sign Language Sign for 'friend.'

(Photo by kiddharma, Creative Commons License)

Alice Dreger and Ellen K. Feder at Bioethics Forum: Bad Vibrations (Content warning: child sexual assault, forced genital surgery, medical experimentation)

What is Poppas thinking? So far as we can tell, from published articles, presentations to parents, and his communications with Feder, he thinks he is responding to critics of genital surgery, like us, and thus reassuring parents that everything is going to be fine. Notably, though, there is a lack of control data for most of the patients described, meaning that we don’t know what sensation these girls might have had without the surgeries, nor do we know what a “normal” level of sensation is at these ages. (We can’t imagine any sane parent giving up his or her daughter to be the control.) We also don’t know that what the surgically altered girls feel in childhood will map onto their adult sexual lives. And we don’t know how Poppas’s tests are going to affect their psychosocial development.

Wheelchair Dancer: Super Movement

I wonder if, as the company has over the years got “better”, the price of that has been a series of expectations for ever more complicated and daring moves. I wonder if we will be able to keep up and, even, keep our reputation/ following as dance audiences, influenced by the tv shows with their own kinds of extreme movement, turn to art dance. Will simple speak alongside flashy?

Most of our work has been created by non disabled choreographers. I know that as we strive, for example, to move in unison, that I feel a lot of pressure on the disabled dancers to “keep up.” The rhetorical and movement dynamics are almost without exception focused on translation/adaptation. And, as part of being able to dance in these ways, we have become ever more adept at making the extraordinary look like “ordinary dance.”

Katja at brokenclay.org/journal: 2010 Longmont Triathlon

Based on last year’s experience, one of the other wheelchair athletes and I met with the race director a week before the race to talk about the logistics of including wheelchair athletes and especially to deal with some of the problems in the run course. It was mostly on a bike path with a lot of bad pavement and thorns. There was some very tight turns, difficult to do with a 5-6 foot long racing wheelchair. And there were portions over grass and curbs. We walked (rolled, biked) the course, and came up with some alternatives. We also had to alter the way the wheelchair athletes exited to the pool to go the transition area as the existing route included steps and grass.

Andrew Seidman at the Miami Herald: House panel: FEMA unready to help the disabled in a disaster

Almost five years after Hurricane Katrina, the federal government remains woefully unprepared to rescue at-risk groups of people in the path of a catastrophe, a congressional panel charged on Tuesday.

A House Homeland Security subcommittee challenged the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Office of Disability Integration and Coordination to explain how its budget of $150,000 and its staff of four people could possibly execute an effective rescue plan for the aged, disabled and institutionalized.

Elizabeth at globecampus.ca: Student-built app allows disabled transit riders to get help from smartphones

Research from tech-savvy students at Ryerson University is helping disabled passengers navigate a subway line halfway around the world.

Their work, part of a push by the Toronto campus to tap student know-how to create new digital products, is allowing riders on one line of the Paris Metro to use their smartphones to get directions, plan their trip and ask for assistance from transit staff. Closer to home, the group is hoping to test the student-developed application on the GO train’s Lakeshore and Richmond Hill lines this fall.

taniada at Cynical Idealism: Untitled (Video with transcription)

Throughout history, people with physical and mental disabilities have been abandoned at birth, banished from society used as court jesters, drowned and burned during the Inquisition, gassed in Nazi Germany, and still continue to be segregated, institutionalized, tortured in the name of behavior management, abused, raped, euthanized, and murdered. Now, for the first time, people with disabilities are taking their rightful place as fully contributing citizens. The danger is that we will respond with remediation and benevolence rather then equity and respect. And so, we offer you a credo for support.

If you’re on Delicious, feel free to tag entries ‘disfem’ or ‘disfeminists,’ or ‘for:feminists’ to bring them to our attention! Link recommendations can also be emailed to recreading[@]disabledfeminists[.]com