DictationBridge Release Candidate For NVDA Now Available For Download

The DictationBridge team is proud to announce the immediate release of DictationBridge 1.0 Release Candidate 1 for the NVDA version. You can download the software and start using it with NVDA right now. If you’re interested, you can read the documentation here to learn everything it has to offer. We expect the JAWS version to be coming soon so please stay tuned for updates on that part of this project.

DictationBridge For NVDA At A Glance

DictationBridge For NVDA is a fully featured add-on for the world’s most rapidly growing screen reader. Serving as a gateway between you, the NVDA screen reader and either Dragon Naturally Speaking or Windows Speech Recognition, DictationBridge will change how you work with computers using voice recognition.

The following is a list of the features that our team thinks are most important, but please remember this is a very partial list of the entire package. The complete list of features can be found our documentation and we’re certain you will find many of the other features and details compelling too.

Our Favorite Things About DictationBridge for NVDA

The following are key highlights of DictationBridge for NVDA that the team who created it feel are most important:

  • Dictationbridge for NVDA (obviously) works with NVDA, the screen reader commonly used by more than 40%of Windows screen reader users worldwide. Prior to DictationBridge, NVDA users had no accessible way to control either Windows Speech Recognition or the Dragon line of products from Nuance and now they have access to both.
  • DictationBridge for NVDA and its soon to be public JAWS sibling do not change your screen reader setup in any way unrelated to dictation. If you install an NVDA or JAWS update, it will not effect the version of DictationBridge designed for your screen reader and DictationBridge will in turn not change any plug-ins or scripts, including the defaults when you install it. With DictationBridge, there’s no more waiting for your dictation support to catch up with the latest version of your screen reader and there’s no potential for DictationBridge to accidentally insert bugs into the default behavior of your Screen Reader of choice.
  • DictationBridge for both NVDA and JAWS provide all of the features a user would expect in a fully featured dictation plug-in or set of scripts and configurations. DictationBridge echoes back the text you’ve dictated, it provides access to the user interface for both Windows Speech Recognition and the entire line of Dragon products and includes a full sweet of other cool features you can read about [in the DictationBridge documentation.
  • DictationBridge for NVDA is the first ever dictation solution for screen readers to include an extensive collection of verbal commands that users can employ to control their screen reader and do various other tasks with the Dragon line of products from Nuance, as well as with Windows Speech Recognition. The DictationBridge team designed this part of the package to make it very easy to add new commands and to modify those that we provide. It even supports navigating the entire web with only speech!
  • DictationBridge, NVDA and Windows Speech Recognition are all available at no cost to end-users, their educators, their employers, governments or anyone else.
  • Care has been taken while developing DictationBridge to ensure that it can be easily translated into languages other than English. This affords DictationBridge the possibility to be translated into any of the 35 languages supported by Windows Speech Recognition, and any of the more than 43 languages supported by NVDA which correspond with those supported by Windows Speech Recognition. Whether you’re dictating in a language other than English, or whether your entire Windows interface is in a language other than English, you’ll be able to use DictationBridge in your preferred language once there is a translation available for it, without maintaining separate software licenses for your screen reader to cover non-English interfaces. We believe all blind people, no matter where they live or what language they speak natively should have access to the software they need and DictationBridge is a part of that overall goal.
  • Because DictationBridge is free, libre open source software (FLOSS), it is not only available gratis to all who care to use it, DictationBridge affords the community the freedom to add to, modify, learn from, repurpose or do anything else they care to do with the software moving forward. People with programming skills can look at the source code as it currently stands at this GitHub repository. DictationBridge provides true freedom with a lower case “f.”
  • Documentation is just as important as the software itself. You will find DictationBridge’s documentation to be among the highest quality available you’ve ever read.

Some Kudos To Our Team

The DictationBridge team had more than a dozen official members and a lot of help from individuals throughout the community to get the software to where it is today. We would like to recognize some of the people who did a lot of the heavy lifting over the more than two years that have transpired as this project went from idea to plan to funding to a release candidate.

We ask that readers congratulate the three people who started this project as without them, it would have never happened. Pranav Lal has handled almost all of the day to day management of this project and has been helping carry it on his back since day one. Lucy Greco has been the project spokesperson from the beginning and has fought harder for the DB users than anyone else on the team; simply put, DictationBridge is a profoundly better software package because of Lucy’s determination. Last but not at all least is Amanda Rush, she’s a WordPress consultant who has had to put up with demands about our site from literally every other member of the team for more than a year and a half at this point. These three people are why and to a large extent how we were able to bring DictationBridge to the public.

Matt Campbell has led the engineering team from the beginning and brought his tremendous low level Windows hacking skills to the project. , Mallory Van Achterberg handled most of the day to day management of the crowdfunding effort and without her diligence, we would have never made our goal. Derek Riemer joined the team late in the game, took over the NVDA scripting tasks and the software grew better by leaps and bounds with his contributions both in writing code and providing advice to the rest of the team. Sean Pharaoh joined the team when the JAWS version was floundering and has contributed to the common core code shared by both NVDA and JAWS as well as writing the scripts for the latter. Erin Lauridsen (now of San Francisco Lighthouse) was our original documentation leader and got the ball rolling and Joseph Lee joined the documentation team and took over its leadership making the DictationBridge documentation as good as any we’ve ever read in the blindness space. Patrick Kelly, Sue Martin, Austin Hicks, Tyler Spivey and Bryan Smart all made contributions that helped bring this software to our community. Finally, we would like to recognize The Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired of San Francisco, or what the rest of us call San Francisco Lighthouse. SFL gave us our largest single contribution funding 25% of our goal, Lucy Greco announced the launch of the project at a Lighthouse Labs meeting in 2016, Erin Lauridsen, now Director of Access Technology at SFL, led our documentation team before leaving us to take on this terrific new job and everyone around SFL has been tremendously supportive of our efforts throughout this long journey.

How You Can Help

This is the release candidate for DictationBridge for NVDA version 1.0. A number of our team members plan on continuing to work on future versions of DictationBridge, to add even more new features and to ensure its compatibility with the Windows operating system and updates to the dictation utilities from Nuance and Microsoft. The $20,000 we raised to do DB 1.0 has been exhausted so we will be trying to raise money to do DictationBridge 1.1 and 2.0 versions and would certainly appreciate a contribution of any sum.

More than money, though, we need people who are interested in joining the team to help out in any number of ways. The first and most obvious thing you can do is to download the RC1, give it a try and please report any bugs you find so we can turn this from an RC into a full release.

Known Problems

  • At this time, the DictationBridge spoken commands for Dragon Pro will only work with Dragon versions 15 and higher. The team is exploring whether we can get them working with Dragon 13 and 14 but are uncertain if we will be able to get this done before final release. We recommend users upgrade to the latest version of Dragon Pro for use with DictationBridge in the future.

Over the two years that have passed since DictationBridge was an idea to it becoming actual software, we’ve had a number of personnel changes and a few of the key team members have moved onto new full time jobs so won’t be available to work on the next versions of DictationBridge. Thus, if you’re interested in helping writing/debugging C++ code, Python NVDA plug-in code, helping with documentation, helping with translations, testing the software, writing up new feature ideas, helping out as an informal tech support person on DictationBridge’s mailing list, learning tips and tricks of low level Windows hacking or nearly anything else that contributes to a software development project, please write to us and we’ll find you something to do. With your help, we can widen the dictation gateway that is DictationBridge, your screen reader, and dictation software.

We urge you to join the ever growing family of NVDA activists, help DictationBridge move into the future and help the community of blind people take control of our own technology destinies. By helping DictationBridge or any other NVDA related project, you are helping yourself, you are helping the tens of thousands of other NVDA users and you are helping the community take control of what is now only in the hands of a few primarily sighted gatekeepers. Please, join this movement and enjoy the true freedom it will afford you and the entire community of blind people worldwide. And last but not least, please download and test DictationBridge, and tell your friends.

Dictation Bridge Public Beta Now Available

The dictation bridge team is proud to announce the release of our first public beta. Over the past several months our team of excellent engineers, private beta testers, and technical writers, (the people responsible for creating documentation to guide you), have been working hard to bring you the world’s first NVDA add-on to allow screenreader users access to leading edge speach recognition software.

Our team is still working hard on bringing you access to JAWS and Window-eyes access and will be rolling that out shortly. In the meantime, please feel free to download the beta and try it with your favorite speech recognition package. This beta works with Microsoft speech recognition and Dragon NaturallySpeaking. Please be sure to let us know what you think and stay tuned for our next public beta and final products.

Please see below for your own copy of the beta and our product release notes. Thank you once again for your patience and support in our crowdfunding campaign and development of this free software.

Release notes for dictationBridge beta 1

Currently working features

  • Echo back of dictated text in Dragon and Windows Speech Recognition also known as WSR.
  • Speech only support of the WSR correction box.
  • Support to control NVDA from Dragon and WSR. At this time, only Dragon commands have been written.
  • A verbal notification of the microphone status when using Dragon. WSR has this feature built-in therefore no support needs to be created.
  • Command NVDA by voice from Dragon.

Feature Descriptions

Echo back of dictated text in Dragon and Windows Speech Recognition also known as WSR

When you dictate into any application with either Dragon or WSR running, dictationBridge will speak the text that has been recognized by either engine if the NVDA screen reader is active. There are no additional settings that have to be done. The functionality works out of the box. If you want to disable echo back, then disable the dictationBridge addon.

Speech only support of the WSR correction box

When you need to correct misrecognized text in WSR, do the following.
Position the cursor on the word you want to correct. Once your cursor is positioned, say “spell”. A floating window will come up on the screen. This window is invisible to NVDA and other screen readers. NVDA will read out the choices. You then say “choose” followed by the number of that choice; for example, if you wanted to select the fourth choice, you will say “choose 4”.

Support to control NVDA from Dragon and WSR

It is possible to execute any script in NVDA. This is done by sending the script name to dictationBridge which in turn sends it to NVDA. So, you can say “speak focus” to have NVDA say the contents of the keyboard focus. There are over 70 commands that have been added for Dragon. Commands for WSR have not yet been written. These commands, in the background execute NVDA scripts that have keyboard shortcuts assigned to them. These scripts are present in NVDA 2016.3. These script names should be the same with earlier versions of NVDA. To get this feature to work, you need to add the dictationBridge folder to the system path. Instructions for doing this will be included in the installation section.

A verbal notification of the microphone status when using Dragon

It is important to know if the microphone is active or not when using speech-recognition. This avoids the transcribing of unwanted text into your document. DictationBridge will now speak the status of the microphone as it is changed when using Dragon. WSR already indicates this status and there are distinct sounds mapped by default to microphone status changes.

Command NVDA by voice from Dragon

It is possible to control NVDA by speaking voice commands from dragon. The commands should have been imported into your user profile. If this has not happened, please see the section on importing them. These commands map to the majority of NVDA features giving you complete hands free control of this program. You can then use native Dragon commands as well to control other programs such as the Windows desktop, note pad and Microsoft Word.

Installing dictationBridge

This version of dictationBridge like the ones before is a NVDA addon. To install it, do the following.

  • Launch NVDA. Ensure that you are running an installed copy of NVDA. This addon has not been tested in a portable version of NVDA.
  • Download the Dictation Bridge addon
  • Once the addon has been downloaded, highlight the file and press enter on it.
  • Follow the prompts and allow NVDA to restart.
    The dictationBridge addon is now loaded.

Importing commands automatically

Once dictationBridge is installed, you will have an item in the tools menu called “Add Commands.” Activate this menu item and follow the prompts. It is crucial that you have already exported your commands that you want to import. These commands should be exported as XML files for this feature to work. If you have exported them as dat files, use the manual import feature from the Dragon command browser. You can do the same for XML commands.

Importing commands manually

  • Launch Dragon and ensure that your user profile is loaded.
  • Get to the Dragon bar and then to the tools menu.
  • Launch the command browser.
  • Hit alt+m to get to the Mode menu and arrow down to “Manage” and activate that option.
  • Hit ctrl+i, set the file type to XML and navigate to where you have saved the dictationBridgeCommands.xml file and highlight it.
  • Tab to the button labeled “Open” and activate it.
  • In Dragon version 15, you will be asked if you want to validate the commands. Agree to do this to ensure that the XML file is valid.
  • Tab through the resulting dialogue until you reach a button called “Import” and activate it.
    The commands should be imported.

Note:

After this procedure, it is crucial to have the following dynamic link libraries (DLLs) in the system path.
* DictationBridgeClient32.dll
* DictationBridgeClient64.dll

Making Dragon easier to use

There are a few options you need to configure in Dragon so that it works optimally when using a screen reader. You should make these changes immediately after creating your user profile.
Go to the Tools menu in the dragon bar and then to the Options menu item and activate it. This is a large multi-page dialogue and we need to change a few settings here. In Dragon 15, you will be unable to tab to the names of the property sheets in the dialogue. Use ctrl+tab to move forward to the next property sheet and ctrl+shift+tab to move backward to the previous property sheet.

On the Corrections tab, enable the options “Correct commands bring up Spelling Window” and “Spell commands bring up Spelling Window”

Navigate to the appearance tab and set the dragon bar to tray only mode.

Navigate to the miscellaneous tab and ensure that the option titled “Use menus that are compatible with screen readers” is checked.

Press “ok” to close the dialogue.

Known issues

The Dragon vocabulary editor is not usable as the list of words is not read by NVDA. We are waiting for the NVDA team to fix certain items before we can support this feature.

The training dialogue in Dragon is not fully supported. We are working on supporting this dialogue and hope to bring out this feature soon.

The word “New paragraph” may be heard in various situations. Please report when this occurs as we are actively tracking this issue.

Certain features such as the invoking of the WSR corrections dialogue may not work on versions of Windows that are set to a language other than English. This is because we have had to use English specific names to interact with portions of Dragon. We are working on enabling translations and hope to allow translators for your language to fix this problem soon.

Submitting bug reports

You should submit all bugs using the dictationBridge issue tracker. There are 3 components into which dictationBridge is split:
the NVDA add-on, the jaws scripts, and the dictationBridge core.

In order to file a bug report, you will first need to ensure that you have a Github account. When you navigate to one of the issue trackers above, Github will ask you to either sign in or create an account. If you have not done so already, create a Github account. Once this is done, you can sign in and file your bug report on the appropriate tracker.

One question that may arise is how to know where a bug is.
There is no accurate way to determine this without testing and seeing the code but here are a few general rules.
1. If you are using jaws and have a problem, you will file bugs in the jaws section.
2. If you are using NVDA, you will file bugs in the NVDA section.
3. If you are a developer and fancy cracking open a debugger, join the party and file bugs in the core.

Getting support and meeting other users

Please join the Discussion list for dictationBridge called dictation-discuss and talk to us.
list address:
dictation-discuss@3mousetech.com
subscription address:
dictation-discuss-subscribe@3mousetech.com
Note:
Send a message with the word “subscribe” without the quotes in the subject line to the subscription address.

San Francisco Lighthouse Endorses, Donates To DictationBridge

The Lighthouse for the Blind and visually impaired of San Francisco has announced its endorsement of and large monetary donation to the DictationBridge project, an ad hoc group of individuals assembled to develop a piece of software that blind and otherwise disabled people can use to better employ dictation software like Windows Speech Recognition (WSR) and the Dragon products from Nuance Communications.

“The overwhelming majority of blind people worldwide cannot afford expensive and unstable solutions when they need to use dictation and a screen reader,” says Brian Bashin, CEO of the San Francisco based Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired. He continues, “The Lighthouse believes it has a moral obligation to support the access needs of blind and visually-impaired people wherever they live. We applaud the creativity of the DictationBridge team to address this need and are happy to be part of their success.”

DictationBridge is raising $20,000 to develop software that permits blind people who want to use speech recognition technologies the ability to do so effectively, efficiently and in an incredibly cost effective manner. DictationBridge, if used with the NVDA screen reader and the built-in Windows Speech Recognition, will provide a solution that comes at no cost to the end users who will enjoy it in the future. In brief, DictationBridge sits between the speech recognition technologies from either Microsoft or Nuance and communicates with the user’s screen reader to permit seamless use of both technologies. To learn much more about the DictationBridge project, please visit the project web site.

Dictation: A Requirement For Many

Most computer users, especially when generating a lot of text, do so using a keyboard. For some people, including many blind people, using a keyboard, due to an additional disability can be tremendously painful and, in some cases, entirely impossible. DictationBridge will provide blind users of the three most popular Windows screen readers (NVDA, Window-Eyes and JAWS) with the ability to perform nearly every task they care to accomplish using voice commands and dictation. Thus, the veteran who came home from the battlefield blind and without hands will be able to use his computer effectively; the blind software engineer suffering from repetitive stress injuries (RSI) will be able to continue doing her job without experiencing terrible pain; the blind person with cerebral palsy will be able to use his computer to communicate with his online friends around the world. DictationBridge, as it uses a free software model, will be free and available at no cost to end users forever so a blind person can get themselves a $100 laptop in a flea market in an emerging nation and with NVDA and DictationBridge be able to use speech recognition at a cost they can easily afford.

DictationBridge and The Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually-Impaired Relationship

A few months before the DictationBridge team launched its crowdfunding campaign, Lucy Greco, DB project spokesperson, met with Josh Nealy. He invited her to present on the project at Lighthouse Labs, a tech think-tank operated by the Lighthouse for the Blind since 2011. The Lighthouse Labs audience was receptive and helped the team get the project launched. Thus, the Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually-Impaired of San Francisco has been involved helping the DB team recruit its membership and in promoting the effort beginning before the campaign even started. In fact, two important members of the DictationBridge team, Lucy herself and Erin Lauridsen, have been long time members of Lighthouse Labs and are frequent attendees at the events it puts on.

The Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually-Impaired in San Francisco is the epicenter of the accessibility community in the Bay Area. “We on the DictationBridge team are proud to have the Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually-Impaired on our team,” says Lucy Greco. “We hope this is a first in what will become a series of projects like this moving into the future.

A Little Disambiguation

The word “lighthouse” is used in the names of a large number of organizations serving people with vision impairment. While this is not obvious to the casual observer, no two of the organizations using “lighthouse” in their name are actually related in any way. Thus, this endorsement comes from The Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually-Impaired of San Francisco and may not reflect the opinions of other organizations serving the blind with “lighthouse” in their names.

DictationBridge Prototype Now Available!

Welcome to the DictationBridge prototype

This is Proof-Of-Concept code, which means that it is used to show that what we claim is possible. Most of this code will not make it into production, or will be heavily modified.

The showcase is an NVDA add-on that does the following things:

  • Echos back recognized text when dictating while using Microsoft Windows speech-recognition or Dragon from Nuance.
  • Makes it possible for a user to interact using speech with the Windows speech-recognition corrections dialog.

Current Limitations

  • When using Dragon, the echo-back feature only works in rich edit controls; therefore no echo-back in web browsers or in Microsoft Office applications.
  • The Windows speech-recognition dialog is accessible only via voice.

Bug reports

Please no bug reports yet! This is not the testing Beta– that is coming later.

We appreciate feedback, however as stated before, this is Proof-Of-Concept code so we are not looking for bug reports at this time. It would be a waste to fix this code since so little of it will remain intact in the end-product.

Feature requests

We will take all suggestions. However, these may or may not be possible to implement, and this Proof-of-Concept code does not contain all the features we’ve already got planned for the future. The fastest way for you to get your suggestion implemented is to contribute to our crowd funding campaign.

Get the prototype for yourself

You can get a copy of the DictationBridge prototype for yourself by doing the following:

Download the NVDA addon to your computer. Then, run the add-on and confirm that you want to install it. Once this is done, restart NVDA, and you’ have access to the DictationBridge functionality.

Free Software Expands Options

Access to productivity tools often comes at a high cost for people with disabilities. The price of obtaining screen readers, braille displays, scanners and other devices can easily set an individual or their employer back several thousand dollars. It is no wonder, then, that off-the-shelf solutions with accessibility features have become increasingly popular.

For example, the blind and visually impaired community has embraced iOS devices both for what they do, and for the fact that an extra software purchase is not required to make them accessible.
Currently, out-of-the-box dictation software is partly accessible to blind and visually impaired PC users. Sighted PC users enjoy two dictation options. Windows Speech Recognition can be turned on with a few clicks on any Windows machine. The average user who needs dictation for convenience, fatigue, injury, or simple curiosity can simply turn it on, complete some short training exercises, and start dictating. The user who decides they require a more robust dictation solution can purchase Dragon (formally known as Dragon NaturallySpeaking) from a major retailer and gain full control of their PC with their voice.

For blind users, neither of these solutions is optimized for an out-of-the-box experience. Without echo back, a user has to use a large number of keystrokes to proofread their work. Dictation Bridge will create a free software solution to address many of these gaps. With the addition of echo back for dictation, a user can choose to employ the free speech recognition features built in to Windows, or to purchase any current version of Dragon.
DictationBridge will increase the speech recognition options available to blind users, and insure that blind users don’t have to pay for features that their sighted counterparts can access for free.

DictationBridge: Coming Soon To A Screen reader Near You

DictationBridge is coming for free to users of NVDA, JAWS and Window-Eyes and it’s coming soon. For a quick look at DictationBridge, listen to this audio demo.

When DictationBridge 1.0 is released it will:

  • Be compatible with NVDA, JAWS and Window-Eyes.
  • provide screen reader users with access to the built-in MS Windows dictation facility as well as with a number of different versions of the Dragon software packages from Nuance.
  • be distributed for free with 100% of its source code included.
  • be fully documented and will come complete with all of the documentation any user may want.
  • have professional technical support available to users who choose to purchase such.

The DictationBridge Team

DictationBridge is being managed, written, documented, tested and will be distributed by a coalition made up of 3 Mouse Technology (3MT), Serotek and a number of independent technologists working to bring a free dictation solution to all blind users of Windows based computers employing the three most popular screen readers. A large portion of the DictationBridge code already exists as part of the SystemAccess screen reader and Matt Campbell, author of SystemAccess and all of the other software from Serotek, is the lead developer on DictationBridge. If you are interested in getting a feel for how DictationBridge will work with the Microsoft Windows dictation features, you might give SystemAccess To Go a try as DB will be using most of the code that Matt wrote for that screen reader.

In addition to Matt Campbell, the DictationBridge team includes a lot of names one may know from around the world of accessibility and hands free computing. We’re proud to have Lucy Greco, Erin Lauridsen, Pranav Lal, Sue Martin, Debra Kaplan, Bryan Smart, Amanda Rush and Jeff Bishop joining the 3MT and Serotek teams to deliver this exciting and very important bit of technology to the users who need it.

What Will DictationBridge Do?

DictationBridge will contain all of the features identified as actually meaningful to blind dictation users, a feature set based on extensive research into the actual usage habits of such individuals. It will support both MS Windows dictation and a number of different versions of Nuance’s Dragon products. It is a major goal of the DictationBridge team to deliver a solution that is as cost effective for end users as possible, if used with the built in Windows dictation system and the NVDA screen reader, end users will enjoy it at no cost to themselves at all. Different versions of Dragon provide users with different features and DictationBridge will support as many as is technically practical. Some advanced features may require users employ Dragon Professional but the DB team is committed to minimizing the number of features that will require users purchase this costly software and we all believe that most users will be happy with either the no cost Windows system or one of the versions of Dragon that are relatively inexpensive.

To achieve its goals, the DictationBridge team will soon be launching a crowdfunding campaign to pay the one time development costs required to bring this software to the general public.

3 Mouse Technology will be selling DictationBridge email technical support for $55 per year. Users will have a free dictation solution fully supported by professionals and will also have a community driven mailing list where users can help support each other at no cost at all.

The DictationBridge team believes that blind and otherwise disabled people should not need to pay a penny more than anyone else to use the same technology products. There are approximately 65 million blind people on the planet and DictationBridge will be available as free software to all of those who use a Windows based PC. As it supports the built in Windows dictation facility, users will not need to purchase an expensive Dragon Professional license. Users who want or need the power of Dragon Pro, however, will have a terrific solution available with all three popular Windows screen readers.

Stay Tuned

In the coming weeks, the DictationBridge team will be making a number of announcements about the project and will soon be launching the crowdfunding campaign. If you want to make sure you don’t miss any announcements, please subscribe to the DictationBridge mailing list by opening this link to the mailing list site or by sending a blank email [by using this link to open your mail program and hitting “send.”