Accessibility Tools I Tried
To continue working while dealing with my hand pain, I tested out and used a suite of different hardware and software accessibility tools. I’ll go over the options I considered, how useful I found them, as well as posting links to relevant websites.
Windows Speech Recognition
Windows speech recognition is the default speech recognition engine built into Windows OS. It comes already installed on both Windows 7 and Windows 10, but I have not checked any earlier versions of Windows. It allows you to dictate text to your Windows computer, as well as control windows, mouse movements, and more.
Windows Speech Recognition unfortunately is not incredibly accurate. It often misunderstands the words I say, even after training it (reading phrases specified by the program to help it learn my voice) several times. This can lead to a lot of frustration, but it’s a necessary evil. The best part about Windows Speech Recognition is how well it interfaces with the operating system. It’s easy to start applications, switch between windows, etc. I also prefer its mouse movement over Dragon Dictate’s implementation. I also found it easier to write code with, because it would try to make my code grammatically correct less often than Dragon would. Finally, it works with Vocola 3 to create a truly useful combination of dictation software.
Windows Speech Recognition working alongside Vocola 3 have been my lifeblood during this whole process. More than 95% of the work I do utilizes a combination of these two pieces of software. Out of all the options for “coding by voice,” this combination was the easiest to set up.
Per the official website, “Vocola is a voice command language — a language for creating commands to control a computer by voice.” (http://vocola.net/default.asp) It allows you to assign custom commands (e.g. a series of keystrokes) to custom phrases. For example, I have short phrases that I use to tell my computer to type things like my name, email addresses, birthday, and more. If I find that I’m dictating the same piece of code over and over, I’ll often write a phrase and command to do it for me. In some situations, the dictation becomes faster than the actual typing.
I cannot stress enough how important this piece of software has been to me. It’s kept me employed, functioning, and feeling like I can still contribute at work. It’s very possible that other solutions in this article can do the same, but Vocola 3 is the one I mainly used, so I feel very strongly about it.
Dragon is the gold standard for dictation. It’s very accurate and easy to use, but it does not work well for anything other than native language, just like Windows Speech Recognition. If I need to write any significant amount of English, I’ll turn use Dragon to do so. If you will be working mostly with human languages (as opposed to programming languages), I highly recommend Dragon.
Vocola 2 + Natlink
This combination of software allows you to use the Vocola language (mentioned above) with Dragon. Vocola 2 is written slightly differently than Vocola 3, but it’s essentially the same. The issue I have here is that these two pieces of software were very difficult to set up and get working, and I’m a competent computer user. I can’t imagine the difficulty for someone who isn’t as comfortable with computers. Because of this, I’m considering making a tutorial video for installing them, but I’m honestly not sure if I can successfully do it again.
RSIGuard is a piece of software made to prevent RSI before it starts. It monitors your keyboard and mouse activity, and tells you when you should take a break. You can even change the settings to disable your keyboard and mouse entirely if you find that you often ignore the break suggestions. I have found that the break timings work well for me; they always seem to line up with when I start to feel significant pain.
RSIGuard also comes with “AutoClick,” an optional setting that performs mouse clicks without you needing to physically click the mouse. It might sound infuriating or confusing, but I’ve found it intuitive and useful. Whenever you move the mouse, and then stop the cursor somewhere on the screen, a click is performed. This turns out to be a very accurate predictor of when a user wants to click.
Ever since it was suggested to me, I’ve had it running on my work laptop and sometimes on m y home computer. I would recommend that everyone take advantage of the 45-day free trial.
I have not used Voicecode.io, but it looks very promising. It’s still in a paid Beta stage, but I’ve been looking forward to its release. Voicecode.io seems to be a fast and accurate way to code by voice, much more than Vocola.
I use the Plantronics PLNAUDIO478 Stereo USB Headset for my dictation purposes. It’s around $30 on Amazon, and does the job. There’s nothing too fancy about it. I use it as my gaming headset, too.
Footime Foot Mouse
If you want to try using your legs instead of your hands to do your mousing, the Footime Foot Mouse might be a good option for you. It has two components: a “slipper” that you put on your foot that you plan to use to move the cursor, and a second piece that reminds me of an arcade game pad. The component with buttons has 5 buttons and scroll wheel, as well as a button on the side. The 5 buttons can be programmed (using software you can download from their website) to do different things depending on the application you have opened, and you can use the side button to switch between sets of commands.
I liked the Foot Mouse, but it did make my shins and ankles sore when I used it, and it’s kind of pricey.
The website has not been updated in about four years, so product support is probably not available. It can be a little finnicky, so purchase at your own risk.
Also available on Amazon.
Those are my thoughts on the different tools and software that I’ve used along my journey. Feel free to comment if you have questions about any of the tools mentioned above.