All posts by Alex White

Alex White is Scope's Information Content Manager.

Voice recognition technology: FAQs

If I had a pound for every time I answered these questions, I could buy the latest version of Dragon Naturally Speaking.

Does it work? 

Yes.

Really?

Yes.

How many words per minute can you type?

For this blog, about 30 words per minute. Normally I don’t have to produce words at speed but I would estimate that I am faster now than I was when I was working as a journalist typing with two fingers. NaturallySpeaking can type as fast as you can speak but you will have to correct any recognition errors afterwards. I would recommend this to anyone who would like to type faster.

How accurate is voice recognition?

For this article, Dragon Naturally Speaking has correctly interpreted 94% of words I have said. A further 3% required me to choose from a list of 10 words by saying ‘choose 4’ or ‘choose 7’. Even the best touch typists spell things incorrectly; Dragon Naturally Speaking will only offer me words that are in the dictionary.

The computer recognises your voice.  What happens if you have a cold?

I have used Dragon Naturally Speaking with a cold. As the computer learns from you constantly, after sessions like this I don’t save my voice files as recognition does depend on your ‘normal’ voice. You can also teach the computer to screen out unwanted noises like coughs and sneezes.

What about outside noise?

I have used my software in a busy and noisy press office quite effectively. The main problem I found there was colleagues tended to ignore me because they thought I was talking to my computer! One colleague’s sneeze was interpreted by my computer as ‘Honolulu’ and there was a door which closed with a sigh that used to come up as ‘fifth’ on my screen. You can train the computer to ignore these noises if they are persistent.

How long does it take to train?

I have trained a variety of people from actor Leslie Phillips to Dan Batten of Disability Now in an hour or so to understand the basics. Dragon Naturally Speaking’s initial training, in which you read from a variety of passages including Alice in Wonderland, takes a few minutes. This enables the computer to develop a model of your voice. It is practice that refines this model. So you can start using the software for dictation after an hour, but it really becomes efficient once you have customised it. The more you use it, the better it gets.  It’s a hell of a lot quicker and easier to learn than touch typing!

Can it do spreadsheets/tables/editing/whatever?

In theory, anything you can do with a keyboard or mouse can also be done via voice. Voice recognition technology is best for word processing and I wouldn’t recommend trying complicated design work with it just yet!

Find out more about assistive technology for disabled people on our Pinterest board.

Keep using the tablets!

Guest post from Margie Woodward, Empowerment officer at Scope.

Scope has run a pilot of 10 communication groups within all regions North, South, East and West during 2013 to enable us to communicate with disabled people in our services on matters concerning  policies and procedures, Scope’s strategic direction and future campaigns.

We also wanted individuals to try for themselves communication applications, leisure activities, networking abilities and generally experiment with technology.

Margie Woodward demonstrating the iPad

The iPad may not be accessible to all our service users but it is a start, to break down the barriers and to show disabled people in our services how such devices can change their lives.

Use of Pinterest

To share apps and other technology that might be useful and of interest to disabled people, we’ve created a couple of Pinterest groups on assistive technology and apps for leisure.

Let us know your favourites – we can all learn from each other!

Twenty years on: When I joined a newly named organisation called Scope

Writing this blog is going to make me feel very, very old.

Ben Elton with a Scope t-shirtIn 1994, I’d been out of work for 2 years on invalidity benefit (which then became incapacity benefit), but I wasn’t sure I wanted to work for The Spastics Society. It sounded old-fashioned and medical, and there were lots of spastic jokes from my childhood. (Even today if you Google Joey Deaconit will helpfully suggest “Joey Deacon jokes”.)

The promotion from ‘invalid’ to ‘incapable’ hadn’t satisfied me so I was still looking for work. When the Spastics Society became Scope, I decided to apply for its graduate scheme.

My first day was the Monday after Scope’s launch, which had been attended by up-and-coming comic Ben Elton and wispy-haired Minister of Disabled People William Hague.

Minister of Disabled People William Hague at 1994 launch of Scope
Minister of Disabled People William Hague at 1994 launch of Scope

Everyone was exhausted after two years of consultation and preparation for this major event.

The press attacked the charity for political correctness and throwing away a well-known brand. In some ways, it was just correctness. The Spastics Society was never just for people with spastic cerebral palsy, only one of three types of CP. When founding trustee Bill Hargreaves said, “I am a spastic”, it was medically inaccurate (as he well knew) as he had athetoid cerebral palsy.

“What does Scope mean?” asked the critics. The Oxford English Dictionary says, “The opportunity or possibility to do or deal with something”- it’s fair to say that this idea hasn’t gained as much traction as we might have liked. People still ask what does Scope stand for, thinking it’s an acronym. However, despite Matthew Parris’s assertion that people would call disabled people ‘Scopers’ (instead of ‘spastic’) as a term of abuse, I have never heard it.

Although it still used from time to time by high-profile Americans, ‘spastic’ as a term of abuse has become less popular in Britain. If for no other reason, less name-calling and abuse of disabled people justifies us changing to Scope. On top of which, more companies wanted to be associated with us and, more importantly, our name has become less of a barrier for disabled people and their families wanting to use our services.

If ‘spastic’ has become less used over 20 years, lots of new words have come into being. Scope began to use the word disablism in 2002 to describe discrimination against disabled people (a word coined by the disability rights movement many years before but still not discovered by Microsoft’s spellcheck).

Twenty years ago, these thoughts would not have been a blog (1997). You wouldn’t have been able to Facebook (2004) or tweet it (2006).

And there wouldn’t have been a 20-page Kindle (2007) e-book about the story of our name change either.

That’s enough new words – I must get back to twerk.

5 top tips for dealing with Christmas debt

And so begins another year. Welcome to 2014 from us here at the Scope helpline. May this year be a good one for all. Last year we saw savage cuts to the welfare state leaving our most vulnerable members of society in deep distress, anxious about their futures.

We have heard some shocking stories about how people are coping with the cuts and the challenges they’ve faced to get through each day on budgets stretched to the limit.

We wanted to turn our attention to the help available if you’re struggling with debt. At this time of year after the Christmas festivities have ended, we often look to our finances and realise that we’ve spent far too much money and have to pay it back and try to get through another year.

Here are the helpline’s top tips to help you get back on track for 2014.

1. Prioritise your outgoings

Your priority outgoings are rent/mortgage, Council Tax, utility bills and court fines. You should pay these bills first. If you are having difficulty with any of the above, please call us free on 0808 800 3333 and speak to one of our response workers or email response@scope.org.ukDon’t avoid dealing with these issues as they will get worse if left.

 2. Maximise your income

Are you getting all of the benefits you are entitled to? Try a benefits check with Turn2us – they may also be able to help you apply for other financial help.

3. Are you struggling with debt?

There are various sources of help available to help you manage your finances. You can seek help from charities such as Step Change, Money Advice Service and National Debtline. Do not pay for financial advice. There are plenty of advice agencies around who offer free advice. Avoid payday lenders who charge excessive amounts of interest and avoid debt consolidation without getting advice about this first. You can access money advice at your local Citizen’s Advice Bureau, approach your local credit union and, in some areas, your local council.

4. Emergency help

If you find that you have no money for essential bills you can apply to your local council for welfare provision payments which replaced community care grants and crisis loans in April 2013. The Children’s Society has created an online database of services in your local area. Every scheme has different criteria but would usually be considered as a last resort.

5. Fuel costs

See the pages on our website to help you tackle your fuel bills and get help to reduce large utility arrears bills – see Scope’s information on helping with fuel costs.

A day in the life of an iPad

Guest blog by Margie Woodward, Scope Empowerment Officer

As part of my consultation work with users of Scope services, I have been using an iPad with disabled people who have had little access to technology before.

New technology has the power, literally, to open doors. I believe it can enable disabled people to exercise more choice and control in their daily lives.

To show what I mean, here are some examples of how an iPad can be tailor-made to an individual’s abilities and interests across a normal day…

7.00am The iPad’s alarm call wakes you up.

7.05am A light bulb moment…

It’s possible to use the iPad to control your light switches using the Wemo app.

8.00am Communicate with your support worker

Grid player is a very exciting application that enables disabled people to use symbols to get the app to speak what has been entered. By personalising the grid player, this has the potential to be a low-cost communication tool.

Speech therapists are enthusiastic about using iPads and have been assisting service users to create boards for their preferences. One person at Drummonds abandoned his much more expensive communications aid for an iPad, which he uses to communicate both in person and on Facebook!

9.00am With assisted technology from Perrero switch open door for support worker

One of our biggest breakthroughs was the discovery of a scanning switch to operate the iPad apps that uses voice over. Quite a lot of apps including music and media are accessible using the device. It is called the Perrero developed by RSL Steeper. The device is used with a single switch button.

11.00am Study

12 people at Drummonds are using the iPad to search the internet for history about Scope’s service and the artist John Constable’s relationship with the old rectory.

12.00pm Play chess

A game like Pool offers the chance to play a game that might be inaccessible otherwise. One person is playing chess independently in his own room and doesn’t need to go to the computer room to do this now!Man using iPad

1.00pm Order a taxi to go into town for shopping, a trip to the cinema or a doctor’s appointment

Someone used the Pages app to read GP’s handouts and prepare for a medical appointment. It also helped them create a one-page profile detailing their support needs and preferences.

2.00pm Shop online

The ladies at Laverneo needed new curtains for their bungalow and have been able to see what is available and what it looks like in the room. It would not be possible for all the ladies to go out together to choose but by using the iPad they are all involved in the decision of what to have.

4.00pm Skype family or friends

People in Scope services are now able to stay in touch with friends using Skype. Being able to see each other’s faces really helps those with speech impairments and people who use signing like Makaton.

5.00pm Bake a cake

An iPad can help with sequencing a task such as baking a cake. You can use switches to operate food processors too (very messy but quite fun!)

6.00pm Play Catchphrase!

At Sully day service, people are using the iPad and Apple TV for group activities like playing Catchphrase in teams. They are also experimenting with blue tooth technology for switches.

7.00pm Catch up on the news

The news group at Chester Skills Development Centre used a HDMI to IPad cable to view what was on the IPad on a TV.

Apps used by the news group are:

  • BBC Sport app
  • Coronation Street Spoiler
  • BBC Weather app
  • BBC News app
  • Stock Tracker
  • BBC Radio 1 app
  • Trading 212

9.00pm Watch a film

People can choose from a variety of online movie and TV services.

11.00pm Time for sleep…

At Rosewarne in Cornwall one person has been using the Sleep Easily meditation app, which enables her to have a restful night’s sleep.

• As part of BT’s Connected Society programme Scope, BT and the RCA’s Helen Hamlyn Centre for Inclusive Design wrote a report, Enabling Technology. The report found that the key to creating enabling technology is, wherever possible, to support disabled people to create their own solutions.

Orchard Manor electric art exhibition

The young people (aged 18-26) at Orchard Manor Transition Service in Cambridgeshire will be exhibiting their UV art work from 4-14 July (Thursday to Sundays) in the Tavern Gallery, Meldreth.

Orchard Manor artists
Orchard Manor artists

This is a first for Orchard Manor and a real opportunity to let the community see some of the residents’ inspiring art work.

Art is used at Orchard Manor as a basis for skills development, providing an excellent tool for self-expression and choice-making. The young people have been involved in a variety of projects including set design (for films created in drama sessions), planning and creating a sculpture trail and making cards and bags for fundraising.

Over the last few months, the young people have been involved in UV art sessions. The studio has been fitted with Ultra-Violet lighting, which is especially beneficial for visually impaired people.

The artists are encouraged to experiment using UV paints. This includes people walking on, wheeling over, throwing objects at and pulling string along the surface of a large sheet of canvas placed on the floor.

The young people also looked at using different methods to create a painting and used large chunks of ice, which they rubbed salt into and made holes in before pouring paint over and leaving out in the sun. The finished pictures are beautiful marble-effect paintings like the one below.

UV artwork
UV artwork

UK Disability History Month

It was really pleasing to see that nearly 50 MPs signed an Early Day Motion supporting the launch of UK Disability History Month.

At a time when, quite rightly, MPs and disability organisations were focussing on the cost-cutting present, it’s worth remembering that history is important – it’s what makes us who we are, and there are many lessons we can learn from the past.

It’s also important that children today learn that the way disabled people are perceived has changed enormously within living memory. That’s not to say there isn’t ignorance and prejudice (in some so-called comedy, for example) but now disabled kids can see themselves in storybooks and can watch cool role models like Ade Adepitan and Cerrie Burnell on TV.

If disabled people are not visible in the community, the result is that nearly 40% of people (who are not disabled and do not have a disabled family member) don’t know any disabled people.

History and disabled people

And it’s the same with history. I have always felt passionately that history belongs to the people so I was glad that I could work with disabled journalist Chris Davies for Scope’s 50th anniversary to ensure that disabled people’s voices were at the forefront of his book, Changing Society.

One of the people we interviewed was the first disabled trustee and employee of Scope was Bill Hargreaves. Bill had been trying to publish his truly remarkable life story for years but couldn’t find a publisher. I promised him I’d get it into print, but sadly he died before I could – you can read Bill’s story in Can You Manage Stares?

I was pleased to lobby successfully for the inclusion of Bill as the third person with cerebral palsy in the Dictionary of National Biography, after the emperor Claudius (possibly) and Christy Brown, the author of My Left Foot.

Speaking for Ourselves

This got me thinking about who else was being ignored by history? That’s why I set up Scope’s pioneering oral history project, Speaking for Ourselves, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. Sixteen disabled volunteers recorded 36 life-stories of people with cerebral palsy over 50. These 234 hours of recorded testimonies are at the British Library Sound Archive.

Our DVD teaching pack was launched in May 2006 and already there have been over 3,500 requests for packs from schools, colleges, local authorities and disability trainers throughout the UK.

As one of our volunteers said, ”Speaking for Ourselves is an exciting and valuable project. Why? Because disabled people are not included in social history. As a disabled woman with cerebral palsy, this opportunity to record our history is long overdue.”

UK Disability History Month is also long overdue; long may it continue!

All of the interviews for Speaking for Ourselves are available to researchers and the general public at the British Library Sound Archive.

Does he take sugar with his tea?

Paul Jenkins

Paul Jenkins is a public speaker with cerebral palsy. He works to change society’s attitudes to disabled people.

Paul grew up in large institutions where it was hard to feel independent. In 1996, he moved to his own home in Milton Keynes, which he describes as a big step in gaining independence: “It was the first time I’d had my own front door,” says Paul. “That was the best feeling.”

A few years ago, Paul was a victim of hate crime. One day in his home town he was approached by two people who asked the time, then took his helmet and stole his bag and £100. Paul feels certain they targeted him because he is disabled. “I didn’t know what to do, I felt so angry and upset.”

Sharing experiences of disability

Feeling frustrated, yet inspired to talk about his life and share his experiences, Paul decided to put together a presentation. “I had all these thoughts in my head that I wanted to get out. My aim was to give people an insight into my personality and teach them about disability,” he says.

He started by taking his presentations to local schools. “At first I was really nervous. I just remember a lot of kids looking at me! But slowly I began to get used to it.”

Paul produced more presentations and now gives his talks to people in Scope too. He trains new staff when they arrive, helping them understand how to work with disabled people. He also sits in on interviews to help recruit new staff. “Scope involves disabled people and listens to us,” he says. “We have been shut away from society for too long.”

Disability trainers in every service

Paul now works with Karen Fairbrother, our service manager in Milton Keynes, to help other disabled people give talks about their lives and raise awareness of disability. His vision for the future is to have a trained speaker in every Scope service.

For Paul, it’s about giving people the opportunity to ask questions about disability and break down the barriers which exist in society. “All the feedback so far has been really positive,” he says. “I feel like the work I’m doing is making a difference.”

The one thing Paul stresses time and time again is to talk to disabled people directly. “Don’t look at someone I’m with and ask if I want sugar in my tea; ask me! There is a tendency for people to treat me like I am a child, like I don’t have opinions. I know many other disabled people feel like this too.”

Paul says becoming a public speaker has given him a renewed sense of purpose. “Afterwards I feel like I’m on an up, it’s a real rush! My ultimate goal is to change society’s attitudes to disabled people. It is my hope that, one day, disabled people will be treated equally. I don’t think that day is too far away.”

Sporting Inspirations Dinner 2011: an evening with cricket legends!

“Still buzzing from a great night thank you @scope everybody should look at what you are achieving and help as much as they can.” Simon Barton on Twitter

Thanks to all the very generous people who attended Sporting Inspirations Dinner at the London Marriott Grosvenor Square and who have raised over £100,000 for our work.

The record-breaking fundraising event was hosted by Scope Patron Alastair Stewart OBE, ITN’s news anchor. He introduced Scope Chair Alice Maynard who explained how the money raised would support our Face 2 Face parent befriending schemes that support 4,000 families of disabled children every year.

£500, she told us, can support one new family to be supported by networks of other parents who have been through similar experiences themselves.

Sarah Kiley was one such mother. Four years ago Sarah discovered that her son Philip had Down syndrome. She found it hard to cope. Friends were awkward and distant. She felt that she couldn’t return to work either physically or emotionally, and her self-esteem suffered as a result. Luckily for her, she found Scope’s Face 2 Face scheme, a network of parents with disabled children who support each other through their common experiences.

She says: “The guilt was replaced by hope. Face 2 Face was a special, very safe place where I could talk.” The experience enabled her “to wear that many hats that the parent of a disabled child must wear: physio, speech therapist, playmate and educator”. By attending courses on speech therapy and signing, Sarah developed the tools she needed to help her son, and Philip started mainstream school in September, something Sarah believes would not have happened without the support of Face 2 Face.

Now Sarah has become a befriender herself and she is passing on what she has learned to two new parents, one of whom, after two years, is about to become a parent befriender herself. This is the virtuous circle that parent befriending creates – £500 can continue to have an effect on future families, too.

Sarah closed by saying that her son Philip wants a cow for Christmas this year, and the Sporting Inspirations Dinner’s special guest, England cricket vice-captain Alastair Cook MBE, who lives on a farm, said he would be happy to oblige!

Despite having a net with England batting coach Graham Gooch at 8 a.m. in Finchley following the dinner, Alastair very graciously agreed to stay out late to be the guest of honour of Jonathan Agnew, BBC’s cricket correspondent and the senior member of the award-winning Test Match Special team, who braved the last train home and provided a running commentary on his Twitter feed.

They discussed Cook’s record-breaking 36 hours of batting in Australia, England’s South African middle order, Geoffrey Boycott, the Mitchell Johnson song, the One-Day Internationals in India… (that’s enough, Ed.)

Former England Test captain Chris Cowdrey had a fine innings as auctioneer, raising nearly £20,000 from eight lots, which included a tour of the ITN studios, a large scale replica of Jenson Button’s Formula One car and a one-week stay in a luxury villa in Barbados!

The silent auction had many fantastic items, including MCC cricket coaching for your school, afternoon tea with Cherie Blair at Brown’s Hotel in Mayfair, a signed photo of the Downton Abbey cast and several amazing holidays and short breaks. It raised just over £20,000 to bring the total for the event to over £100,000 – that’s enough to support 200 families like Sarah’s, a truly life-changing amount.

For further information or to book your tables or tickets for future events, please contact Sue Dorrington, Special Events, Scope on 020 7619 7271 or email her.

Many thanks to Isabel Hudson, the chair of Scope’s Business Development Board and the Sporting Inspirations Event Committee, who helped to organize this fantastic event on her birthday!

Scope celebrates UK Disability History Month

As part of UK Disability History Month, Scope has worked with British Library Disability Voices to include over 200 hours of recorded testimonies by people with cerebral palsy, aged 50 and over, recorded for our Speaking for Ourselves: an Oral History of People with Cerebral Palsy project.

This two-year partnership with the Heritage Lottery Fund trained 16 disabled volunteer interviewers to record the life stories of people living with cerebral palsy, and now these life story interviews are available to listen to online.

Disability Voices contains unique and moving memories from disabled people recalling childhood, family life, education and work experiences. There are insights into their treatment by medical professionals, the daily challenges of the workplace and of the attitudes of wider society, and their involvement in disability organisations and communities.

As well as providing useful learning material, Disability Voices expects to challenge and inspire a wide range of users: to help people relate their own experience to others in similar circumstances, but also engage with those who have little knowledge of the lives of disabled people in our society.

Ann Pridmore was one of the volunteer interviewers on Speaking for Ourselves: “It’s an exciting and valuable project. Why? Because disabled people are not included in social history. As a disabled woman with cerebral palsy this opportunity to record our history is long overdue.”