Thursday, January 31, 2008

You've come a long way, baby

In the late 1960s and early 70s, back when cigarette companies were allowed to advertise on television and radio, I can still remember the catchy jingle of the Virginia Slims commercials that ran on television. Their slogan was “You’ve come a long way, baby.” I can still whistle that tune today.

That same catch phrase can be applied to the field of assistive technology. With advances in technology and computers in general, the world of assistive technology has come leaps and bounds.

When I first began using JAWS to access the computer ten years ago, it came on four floppy discs. That means that the whole program took up less than 5.7 megabytes of space. Heck, I’ve got several mp3s on my computer that are larger than that today. And, JAWS has definitely evolved in more than just the amount of space it takes up on the hard drive. (For the record, JAWS 9 is now a 65 MB download.)It has evolved to be able to handle the changing operating systems and programs that are frequently used by blind computer users.

In this same vein, there is a recent article in the New York Times describing
how speech recognition technology has evolved.

Instead of being relegated to the world of disability services, speech recognition has found much more mainstream appeal. The article highlights how this technology has gone From the early versions of Dragon Dictate (now Dragon Naturally Speaking) to the implementation of it on telephone services and, most recently, on cell phones.

The article also discusses the aspect of how this field changes when big corporate players take a role, such as Nuance and Microsoft. Nuance has been gathering various voice recognition resources for some time now and has grown to be a major player in this field. Microsoft also bought TellMe Networks a while back, adding this to their stable of growing assistive technology resources. (I first heard about TellMe a few years ago in blind circles as an accessible means of information gathering via telephone.) Microsoft is also now regularly front and center in those nationally broadcast Ford commercials promoting the auto companies use of Sync to use voice activated commands to execute commands while driving.

Yes, it is true. You’ve come a long way, baby.

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