DictationBridge Update

In late June, the DictationBridge crowdfunding campaign came to a successful conclusion having raised its entire $20,000 goal with only 8 hours to spare in the effort. In the time since, the DB team has been working diligently to write and document the software, get the technical support team trained and have been fixing bugs as soon as they are reported by the people testing the software.

This piece intends to describe the current state of DictationBridge, what we’ve accomplished thus far and what we still need to do.

NVDA and Windows Speech Recognition

As per the schedule we published when we launched the DB crowdfunding project, we did the work to get the combination of NVDA with Windows Speech Recognition (WSR) running first. We are happy to report that this task is feature complete and are happy to share the software with anyone who requests a copy. There may be some bugs in the software which we will fix if and when they are reported to us but, as of this writing, NVDA with WSR is considered complete.

We will be starting the work to support WSR in Window-Eyes and JAWS relatively soon.

NVDA With Dragon Products

At this stage in our development, we are approaching feature complete on the software bridging NVDA and the Dragon line of speech recognition products. Most of the Dragon UI has been scripted, echo back is working properly and a number of other features are now accessible but we probably have another week or two of effort to call this component complete.

Dragon Pro Scripts

In addition to scripting the Dragon user interface, the DB team is currently in process of creating scripts for Dragon Pro to permit users to issue screen reader commands by voice when using DictationBridge. We are working on a unified vocabulary so the same commands will do the same things with all three of the screen readers we’re supporting and progress on this task has been relatively swift. The DB team released the first set of Dragon Pro scripts to the beta team this past week and we’re eagerly awaiting feedback.

Window-Eyes, ZoomText Fusion and JAWS

As the NVDA scripting effort is nearing completion, we will soon be starting the scripting to support the other screen readers. We elected to do NVDA first in order that we had a functioning prototype on which to model the experience users will enjoy with DB with the other screen access utilities. Once the NVDA version of DB is completed, we expect the scripts for Window-Eyes, ZTF and JAWS to come along rapidly.

One Major Feature

We do have one feature on which we’ve not started working yet. This will either play a sound or provide some speech feedback when the user issues a Dragon or WSR command like “scratch that.” The current beta provides no feedback when a user issues such a command and the software will be nicer to use when this feature is completed and included in DictationBridge.

Errata

Prior to writing this update, we took a look at the last few articles published on this site. Unfortunately, we discovered that at least one of the older articles uses the term “ZoomText” to describe one of our target access technologies. In fact, we are not supporting ZoomText itself but, rather, we will be supporting ZoomText Fusion, a package that combines Window-Eyes and the popular ZoomText magnification package. We are sorry for any confusion this may have caused the readers.

Conclusions

The DictationBridge team is working very hard to get this important piece of software delivered to the public. We are always looking for more help testing the software so, if you would like to be added to our beta team, please send us an email at this address.

DictationBridge: Our Gratitude

Introduction

Last week, the DictationBridge Indie Go-Go campaign reached its entire $20,000 goal with about 8 hours left in a 60 day fundraising effort.

The DictationBridge team had 12 “official” members but the true story of our success is about the 130 separate contributors and the dozens upon dozens of individuals who helped tell the DictationBridge story on Twitter, Facebook, on blogs and on podcasts. Our entire team is incredibly grateful to all of those who helped us make history with this campaign.

The Establishment Joins Us

The single largest contribution to the DictationBridge campaign came to us from The Lighthouse For The Blind and Visually Impaired of San Francisco. As far as we can tell, this is the first time that a well established blindness oriented organization has participated in an effort like this one. Our entire team thanks the San Francisco Lighthouse, Brian Bashin, Josh Miele, Jennison Asuncion, Scott Blanks, and others at the Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired for they’re hugely helpful contributions to this campaign.

The DictationBridge publicity effort started at the Lighthouse in San Francisco when Josh invited Lucy Greco, a founding member of the DictationBridge team, to do a presentation about it at their Lighthouse Labs meeting a few weeks before the campaign went live. Throughout our 60 days of fundraising, we enjoyed receiving advice and encouragement from our friends at the SF Lighthouse and, in a big but unofficial manner, we have felt that the San Francisco Lighthouse has been part of the team since the beginning.

Help From Many Individuals

A crowdfunding project is largely an exercise in storytelling and getting the message to as many people as possible. If you look at the @DictationBridge Twitter timeline, you will undoubtedly see the names of a lot of individuals who took it upon themselves to help us promote our Indie Go-Go campaign.

We can’t list everyone by name but we are grateful to everyone who helped with as little as a single tweet or sent out DictationBridge related information frequently during the fundraising period. We’re grateful to all contributors, whether they donated five bucks or five thousand and we’re all feeling warmed by the outpouring of affection this campaign has received from the community.

We would, however, like to specifically thank Sandra Pilz and Paul Warner for giving us valuable feedback on our messaging and social media tactics. Sandra and Paul took it upon themselves to help coach us in this area and both were critical to our success. We’d also like to thank Jessie Lorenz, executive director of Independent Living Resource Center San Francisco, for her timely input on marketing and storytelling.

We express our deep appreciation to all of those who invited DictationBridge members to appear on their podcasts, to present at their events and to mention the project on their blogs. Without all of this public exposure, we’d have never made the goal and, as a result, those blind people who need dictation support but choose to (or must) use a screen reader other than JAWS or simply cannot afford the expensive current solutions would not be getting a free program that they desperately need.

The History Of The DictationBridge Project

DictationBridge, before it even had a name, began when Pranav Lal, Lucy Greco and Amanda Rush started working together to discuss making a free plug-in for NVDA to support dictation features. For Lucy and Pranav, dictation is not an option but, rather, an essential aspect of their computing experience.

Due to having multiple disabilities, many blind people (including some on the DictationBridge team) cannot type with any sense of efficiency or without experiencing a great deal of pain. The primary goal of the DB effort from day one has been to provide an affordable solution to as many of these people as possible. Thus, the war veteran who returns home with neither the use of hands nor eyes will have a computer they can use affordably, a blind person with bad repetitive strain injuries (RSI) now has a free solution and those blind people without a secondary disability have dictation at no extra cost to themselves.

In July, Chris Hofstader joined the team to take over the executive role on the effort. Together, Pranav, Chris, Lucy and Amanda would build out the amazing team of twelve that’s bringing DB to the world.

In August and September of 2015, Pranav and Chris tried to negotiate a licensing deal with a group in Germany to use their code as the core of DictationBridge. The German group wished to maintain proprietary source code which was a deal breaker for DB, as we were committed from the start to the values of an open source project. Chris then called Mike Calvo and they negotiated an agreement that permitted Serotek to license the dictation code from its SystemAccess screen reader in a manner compatible with our philosophy that a blind or otherwise disabled person should never be forced to pay a penny more than anyone else to use the same technology. The agreement with Serotek made history as it’s the first time a vendor of proprietary closed source assistive technology software has agreed to open up its source in exchange for a very modest licensing fee.

The next bit of history we made happened when the Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired of San Francisco made an official endorsement of and large monetary contribution to the DictationBridge campaign. Quoting Brian Bashin, CEO of the SF Lighthouse, “The Lighthouse believes it has a moral obligation to support the access needs of blind and visually-impaired people wherever they live.” During the discussions between the DB team and our friends at SF Lighthouse, one of the major goals we set was to ensure that a blind person in an emerging nation could buy a cheap laptop at a flea market and have full access to dictation features built into Windows, a goal we’ve never heard expressed by a large organization in the blindness space before. By collaborating with SF Lighthouse, the DictationBridge team built what we hope to be a long standing bridge between those of us in the free software community and at least one well established advocacy organization.

The nature of the DictationBridge team is also a first of its kind in the blindness business. The team is made up of people from two businesses (3 Mouse Technology and Serotek), a number of independent contributors and a coalition of activists in the blindness and technology world. The team has a number of members for whom dictation is a requirement and not a feature and we’ve some of the strongest engineering and management talent available in the world of accessibility. Assembling an ad hoc team like this one on which everyone works toward a common goal is unprecedented in this field.

In Conclusion

While the DictationBridge fundraising campaign is over, the team is working very hard to write, test, document and publish the software. Those on the private beta team will be seeing the first bits this week and the process of fixing bugs will begin. The DictationBridge project web site will be including a “Donate” button so those who had wanted to help the project financially but couldn’t do so before the campaign ended will have an opportunity to contribute to a fund that will help maintain and improve DB into the future.

Finally, as we wrote above, all of us on the DictationBridge team are sincerely and deeply grateful to the hundreds of people who helped us make this dream into a reality. This community is terrific and we all bow to you in thanks.

DictationBridge: A Graduated Schedule

Introduction

The DictationBridge crowdfunding campaign was launched in late April and, as of this writing, has raised approximately 26% of its $20,000 goal. The DictationBridge campaign uses the Indie Go-Go “flexible funding” model so the team will receive the dollars contributed to the effort even if we do not make our entire target.

The DictationBridge team has received a number of questions from individuals who want to know what we will do if we do not make the entire $20,000 goal.

It should be noted that each level is cumulative so everything that goes into a lower level of funding will also be in those that require a higher level of financing to accomplish.

$7500: The Basics

The DictationBridge team met and added up the costs to determine our minimum level to be able to produce a useful piece of software and we found that for $7500, we could develop the following:

  • Support for NVDA with Windows Speech Recognition (WSR).
  • An easy to translate package that others can bring to non-English languages.
  • Basic documentation describing how to install and use DictationBridge with WSR.

When we reach the $7500 milestone, the engineers will commence work on the real DictationBridge software (as opposed to the demo) released to the public. Those who joined the beta team by donating $100 or more will soon afterward start seeing incremental builds of what will be the released version of the software.

At this level, the single most challenging task is replacing the proprietary API hooking library used in the DB demo with the free and open source one used by NVDA itself.

$10,000: Dragon Comes To NVDA

At the $10,000 contribution level we will, in addition to the tasks at the previous levels:

  • Add support for the Dragon speech recognition from Nuance Communications to the main DB DLL.
  • Write NVDA scripts to support the Dragon user interface elements.
  • Expand the documentation to include instructions for using DictationBridge with the Dragon products.

This level has two relatively complicated tasks. Unlike WSR, the Dragon products use a variety of different APIs to insert text into a document, and while the DictationBridge demo already shows off Dragon working in edit and rich edit controls, we need to find which other API it uses for text in MS Word, in web controls and in other areas as well. The APIs used by Dragon aren’t documented publicly so the DLL related tasks will require Matt to poke around under the hood in Microsoft Windows to figure this out. The other time consuming task is writing the scripts to support the Dragon interface, including the screens used to train the Dragon software to better understand your speech patterns.

$12,500: Control NVDA with Speech Commands

At the $12,500 level, in addition to everything described above, we will:

  • Write Dragon Professional scripts to provide a way for DictationBridge users to issue spoken commands to operate their screen reader. We intend to include as many different NVDA commands as possible at this level.
  • Ensure that the Dragon Pro scripts are easy to translate into non-English languages.
  • Write the documentation detailing how a user can employ these commands when using DictationBridge.

At this level, the technical challenges aren’t too great as Dragon Pro scripts are fairly straight forward to write and provide a number of ways it can be used to communicate with the main DB DLL. These tasks, however, are time consuming and present a difficult set of test cases to determine if a bug is in the DB DLL, the Dragon Pro scripts, the NVDA Dragon scripts or NVDA itself. As there will be a large number of NVDA commands supported, this also creates a time consuming task for those writing the documentation.

$15,000: DictationBridge Comes To Window-Eyes and ZoomText Fusion

At the $15,000 level, in addition to everything described above, we will:

  • Write scripts for Window-Eyes (WE) and ZoomText Fusion (ZTF). It’s our understanding that this will be a single set of scripts as the scripting facilities in Window-Eyes and ZTF are identical.
  • Write the Dragon Professional scripts to allow for users to control WE and ZTF software with speech.
  • Ensure that these scripts are as easy to translate into non-English languages as possible.
  • Expand the documentation describing how to use WE and ZTF with DictationBridge.

The biggest challenges at this level are adding a second and third access technology to the package, writing the scripts for WE and ZTF, expanding the documentation and vastly expanding the test cases to ensure that DB is working properly with both NVDA and the two access technologies from AI Squared.

$17,500: DictationBridge Comes To JAWS

JAWS, according to the best data we have available today, remains the most popular screen reader in the world. But, as one can read in Matt Campbell’s description of the problem entitled, Inside DictationBridge, “the JAWS scripting facility is considerably less powerful than the more modern analogues available for NVDA and WE/ZTF. The biggest issue is that JAWS can query applications for information through any number of different techniques but it cannot be called by an external application so it’s impossible to notify JAWS that something has happened on the screen in an application that does not have focus.”

Both WSR and the Dragon products pop their UI onto the screen in a non-standard manner and leave the application in which the user had been working with focus. The only way to add a “global” script to JAWS requires altering the default scripts shipped with JAWS itself. The DictationBridge team, while it hopes to serve as many users as possible, has elected to not change the JAWS default behavior as doing so means that any changes made by Freedom Scientific or a third party (Doug Lee’s popular Skype scripts for instance) will require this part of the DB code to also be changed. Altering the default behavior of JAWS will also cause technical support issues that, based on any number of different factors, will be very hard to impossible to solve as using this technique will insert a large number of additional variables to the team’s test cases.

Thus, if we reach the $17,500 point, in addition to everything described in the sections above, we will:

  • Write JAWS scripts to support the Dragon line of products from Nuance.
  • Write Dragon Pro scripts to permit users to issue JAWS commands by voice.
  • Ensure that the scripts are easy to translate.
  • Expand the documentation to include how to use JAWS with DB and describe the limitations it has compared to the other screen readers we’re also supporting.

$20,000: The Gold Plated DictationBridge

If we reach our entire $20,000 goal, along with everything described above, we will:

  • Attempt to support WSR with JAWS.
  • Ensure the documentation is professionally written and that people have tested it for clarity.
  • Perform a higher level of professional level testing.
  • Possibly include features suggested from users “in the wild” that we on the DB team hadn’t thought up on our own.
  • Put a few dollars in the bank to pay developers to maintain DB if/when something like a new version of Windows, WSR or Dragon might cause failures.

What If We Fall Short Of The Minimum?

While the DictationBridge team is highly confident that we’ll reach the $7500 milestone, as of this writing, we had approximately $5200 in donations with roughly 40 days remaining in the campaign, so, although we think it’s highly unlikely that we will not reach the minimum, it is still a possibility. Thus, if we do not hit this milestone, we will:

  • Repay the debts we’ve incurred to get the dictation campaign launched. This amounts to approximately $2000 that we spent mostly to hire and train the technical support staff and to acquire some copies of Dragon, a copy of the 90 day test version of JAWS and a few other odds and ends. If we do not reach the minimum, nobody on the team will be compensated for their time and no additional expenses will be considered.
  • Donate the rest of the money (minus of course the Indie Go-Go fees) to the NVAccess Foundation to be used as Mick Curren and Jamie Teh, the amazing engineers behind NVDA, see fit. Nearly every member of the DictationBridge and 3 Mouse technology teams are NVDA users and we all trust that Mick and Jamie will use these dollars judiciously. NVDA is the only Windows screen reader to have shown marketshare growth in each of the past six years and is a tremendously valuable tool for blind people in nearly every corner of the globe. Obviously, our goal is to raise the entire $20,000 and deliver the gold plated version of DictationBridge as we believe it will add a powerful set of additional features to the different screen readers we intend to support but, if this proves impossible, we’re proud to help NVAccess in any other way we can.

In Summary

The DictationBridge team is committed to making as good a piece of software as the budget will allow. Fiscal realities, like being able to pay the developers, testers and those writing documentation have led us to create this collection of milestones so as the donating public can understand what each step will cost and what each milestone will allow us to build. Nearly everyone working on DictationBridge is a screen reader user so we all have a stake in its outcomes and we believe strongly that access technology for blind people should be designed and developed by members of our community and that blind technology professionals should be paid for efforts that benefit the entire community. This is a “for us, by us” project and we hope you choose to donate to the DictationBridge crowdfunding campaign before our June 20 deadline.

Announcing DictationBridge: A Free Dictation Solution For Screen Reader Users

Welcome to the dictationBridge website.

DictationBridge will be a screen reader plug-in that will allow blind users to better enjoy speech recognition.

DictationBridge will enhance the interaction model for blind users of Dragon and Microsoft dictation utilities.
It may seem that speech synthesis and recognition would conflict with each other. . . Indeed,, if you place a microphone near speakers, it does pick up sound and can cause squealing feedback. However, with DictationBridge, screen reader users will not experience this issue for reasons too complex to describe in this brief announcement.

In most cases, users interact with screen readers via a collection of keyboard commands. However, there are many screen reader users who have additional impairments, such as learning disabilities or repetitive strain injuries, who need to use speech recognition to get things done. With DictationBridge, they can enjoy their screen reader in a more efficient manner and one that is compatible with other disabilities or repetitive stress injuries, a malady, based on observational and anecdotal evidence, common among blind people due largely to using a keyboard far more heavily than those who use vision for their computational experiences.

Command and control of one’s system can also be made more efficient for screen readers using dictation and DictationBridge provides access to this as well.. Speech-recognition is often represented in popular culture with scenarios like Star Trek where the computer would do whatever the crew of the Enterprise would ask of it. Speech recognition is not quite at that level, however it is possible to command your computer using speech recognition today and have it carry out pre-programmed tasks.

DictationBridge enhances the users’ experience with speech recognition and screen readers. It fills many gaps that occur due to the interaction of these systems and accessibility problems in the software from Nuance and Microsoft.

DictationBridge is designed to be as screen reader agnostic as possible. The program, however, will be first coded for and tested against the NVDA screen reader for Microsoft Windows .

DictationBridge is free, libre, open source software (FLOSS) . and it will be available, including 100% of it’s source code, upon release. The DictationBridge team is dedicated to protecting your freedoms.

If you would like to get more information about this project, join the mailing list by activating this link to join the dictationBridge mailing list or by this link which will launch your email program and, with it, you can just send the mail without adding anything else. Whether you use either the form or the email, you will receive a confirmation message with instructions on how to complete your registration.

Those of you who are interested in DictationBridge but don’t want to join a discussion list and want to follow the project’s progress should come back to this page often as we hope to be updating it frequently.

Thanks For reading and please do join our effort to bring DictationBridge to the world at no cost to all but those who make a voluntary contribution to our crowdfunding effort.