Saturday, December 20, 2008

Ginger Spell on Disability 411

Several years ago, I read a passage that has stuck with me and become my own day-to-day mantra: “There are no mistakes in life, only lessons. It is only when we fail to learn the lesson that a mistake occurs.”

That thought also echoes the adage of, “If you always do what you always did, you always get what you always got.”

With those ideas in mind, let me ask a question. What do we learn from proofreading with a spellchecker? When we use most spellcheckers, we get the screen popping up the correct spelling of words, one word at a time, with no real feedback on what we’re doing wrong. If we’re not learning from our mistakes, er lessons, then we are destined to repeat them.

So, how about a spellchecker designed not to look at just the single word and be a preventative measure, like most are today, but instead, looks at the whole sentence and contextual use of the word, and seeks to teach the user where he is making errors?
And, what if this novel idea worked as a plug in for Microsoft Word, easily the most-used word processing program?
And, best yet, what if it were free?

If this sounds like an interesting tool, then check out the latest episode of the
Disability 411 podcast.
In Episode 58, Beth interviews Miki Feldman-Simon of
Ginger Software,
The company which has developed Ginger Spell, the very spellchecker that I just described above. It is marketed for being a “new technology for people with dyslexia.”

It doesn’t correct just spelling mistakes. It also corrects misused words, basically words that are spelled correctly but not in that context. How we do it is we look at the context of the sentence. The software uses breakthrough technology that looks at the context of each sentence and works out what the writer or the user was trying to write according to the context.

At the moment we correct spelling and misused words, but in the beginning of next year we’ll also be correcting grammatical errors which will make a huge difference to people making not just spelling mistakes but say, people for whom English is a second language who make a lot of grammatical errors.

What the software also does by correcting the whole sentence, it’s making the whole way people work a lot more efficient. Instead of going back and looking word by word, it is much faster to correct full sentences. So, if it takes someone an hour to write, and this is the feedback we’re getting from users right now, instead of it taking them a half an hour or an hour to write a few sentences before, it’s very quick and very efficient. you click one button and it corrects all of the mistakes within that sentence. You click another button, it corrects all the misused words and you just continue working.

It’s just a much better way to use the time and the accuracy is a lot higher than any other spell checker. If you really have difficulty writing and you make unusual spelling mistakes, which a lot of people who have learning difficulties or who have dyslexia do, normal spell checkers can’t correct the unusual mistakes that they make. Our software, because it looks at the context of the sentence can correct these unusual mistakes at the sentence level. It’s much more accurate and it’s much faster and easier to use.

The learning of lessons comes in reports that Ginger Spell will generate. This is where Ginger Spell is different by offering lessons, not mistakes. The user can learn where and how he is creating errors and, once these areas are identified, can work to fix these in the future.

To use the Ginger Spell plug in, the user will need to set up a log in account. That lets the program generate the individual report for that particular user, which can make this a very useful tool for university writing labs, or even for student computers operated by the DSO.

Does this sound like an interesting tool? Check out the link above for the D411 show for more of the interview with Miki. Also, go to the Ginger Software page to download and try out Ginger Spell for yourself.

And, remember…, no more mistakes, only lessons.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Developers of WebAnywhere screen reader recognized for technology collaboration

Hopefully, the following recognition will allow insight to continue.

The 3rd annual Mellon Awards for Technology Collaboration (MATC) recognized the great work going on at the University of Washington on
The cross-platform, cross-browser, web-based screen reader on the go.

The MATC recognition provides a $50,000 award to the university, which will hopefully be used for the continued work on this insightful, open source software.

If you’re interested in trying out this innovative and evolving assistive technology , go to the official
WebAnywhere home page.

And, in case you missed it, a few months ago, I interviewed
Jefferey Bigham,
the contact person for WebAnywhere, several months ago here on Access Ability.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Personal update

Sorry about the lack of posts of late. Aside from the Thanksgiving week break, during which I was gone for a 6-day cruise with my family, I’m also working on a couple of projects. Both of these undertakings are similar in that they involve me teaching assistive technology.

First, I have recently begun working with a local school district to teach their blind and visually impaired students how to use the JAWS screen reader and some other assistive technologies in which I’m well versed in. I’m so impressed with the range of skills the students possess, not to mention their desire to learn. I’m doing this a couple of days a week with students from elementary to high school age. The teachers and administrators keep thanking me for doing this, but I keep feeling that I should thank me for being able to contribute to the education of these kids. Maybe I’m idealistic, but what I teach them might be the very skill that helps them excel in college or land that job they want. Only time will tell what dividends are realized out of my time investment with these students.

The second undertaking I’ve been working on is a structured curriculum for teaching VI professionals on how to teach their students how to use JAWS. I was contacted a couple of weeks ago by a VI professional from another school district. He asked if I could teach him and a fellow colleague on how to instruct their students on this. He said that they have to know several different technologies to fit a variety of skill sets and visual acuities, but doing this usually means being a jack of all trades and master of none. To teach JAWS, though, one must have more of a skill level than what they have and he said that the practical experience I have is a very sought after skill.

Doing both of these teaching projects has sparked an inspired fire within me. Using JAWS and other assistive technologies are skills I’ve learned out of necessity, but mastering these and staying up to date on latest innovations in assistive technology was a self serving method for me to maximize my experience and abilities. However, I’ve realized that I have become a resource on using various technologies that many of my friends who are also users of these turn to when they need help or looking at purchasing new equipment. It is that realization mixed with a desire to help that have pushed me to embark on my latest efforts.

The down side of all this is that I’m winding up with less time to write here on Access Ability. Don’t worry, though. I’m still here and will be tending this fire as well. It may be a bit less frequent, but writing here will definitely be something I continue. After all, it was a passion to share resources that drove me to begin this blog in the first place, and that fire still burns.

I just feel that I needed to let regular readers of this blog understand why I’ve been a bit absent of late.

More soon…