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Jul 12, 2017 Use Voice Dictation To Speak To Your Mac Macs have voice dictation built-in, allowing you to talk instead of type. This feature functions more like voice dictation on a mobile operating system, and less like the more complicated Speech Recognition feature found in Windows. OS X Mavericks contains an “Enhanced Dictation” feature. This makes Voice Control a much better dictation system than the Enhanced Dictation Apple provided in previous editions of Mac OS/macOS. Voice Control is disabled by default. The Mac can also read aloud descriptions of items on the screen, useful for people who have poor eyesight or are blind. Back in Dictation & Speech preferences, select the Text to Speech tab. You can choose a male or female speaking voice and drag a slider to determine the rate at which that voice. Screenshot by Matt Elliott Step 4: Choose a voice for your Mac. Click Text to Speech at the top of the Speech window and select a name from the pull-down menu next to System Voice.
Are you the bossy type who likes to bark orders? Lucky for you, your Mac doesn’t mind taking orders. For people who are physically unable to type or handle a mouse, speech recognition and dictation (spoken commands) may be the only way to get things done on a computer.
Jan 21, 2019 Nuance Has Abandoned Mac Speech Recognition. Will Apple Fill the Void? In October 2018, Nuance announced that it has discontinued Dragon Professional Individual for Mac and will support it for only 90 days from activation in the US or 180 days in the rest of the world. The continuous speech-to-text software was widely considered to be the gold standard for speech recognition, and Nuance.
First, choose →System Preferences →Dictation & Speech, and then click the Dictation option to turn the capability on or off. Note your options here. You can choose a different language (other than English), select an Enhanced Dictation feature that lets you dictate without an Internet connection, and perform tasks on your Mac (you’ll need to devote some free space on your storage drive).
And you can choose a shortcut to start or stop dictation: pressing the Fn (function key) twice does this by the default.
You’ll know that you can dictate text or bark commands when you see a small microphone in a rectangle.
You can also choose a word or phrase to enable Dictation. In System Preferences, go to Accessibility →Dictation and select the Enable the Dictation Keyword Phrase option. Then type the word or phrase you’d like to use for that purpose, unless you want to stick with Computer, the default word Apple chose on your behalf.
To check out a list of the commands your computer can understand, click the Dictation Commands button. The list includes such commands as Select Paragraph, Capitalize That, and Redo That. Select Enable Advanced Commands for more listings, including commands in apps (Switch to application name).
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The Mac can also read aloud descriptions of items on the screen, useful for people who have poor eyesight or are blind. Back in Dictation & Speech preferences, select the Text to Speech tab. You can choose a male or female speaking voice and drag a slider to determine the rate at which that voice speaks. In Accessibility preferences, you can turn on or off the VoiceOver feature and receive VoiceOver training.
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While you’re here, Mac owners who have a disability of any sort should explore the many Accessibility options available. These tools may help people with poor eyesight or hearing loss, as well as those with physical motor difficulties, using controls for your keyboard, mouse, trackpad, and special switches.
In October 2018, Nuance announced that it has discontinued Dragon Professional Individual for Mac and will support it for only 90 days from activation in the US or 180 days in the rest of the world. The continuous speech-to-text software was widely considered to be the gold standard for speech recognition, and Nuance continues to develop and sell the Windows versions of Dragon Home, Dragon Professional Individual, and various profession-specific solutions.
This move is a blow to professional users—such as doctors, lawyers, and law enforcement—who depended on Dragon for dictating to their Macs, but the community most significantly affected are those who can control their Macs only with their voices.
What about Apple’s built-in accessibility solutions? macOS does support voice dictation, although my experience is that it’s not even as good as dictation in iOS, much less Dragon Professional Individual. Some level of voice control of the Mac is also available via Dictation Commands, but again, it’s not as powerful as what was available from Dragon Professional Individual.
TidBITS reader Todd Scheresky is a software engineer who relies on Dragon Professional Individual for his work because he’s a quadriplegic and has no use of his arms. He has suggested several ways that Apple needs to improve macOS speech recognition to make it a viable alternative to Dragon Professional Individual:
- Support for user-added custom words: Every profession has its own terminology and jargon, which is part of why there are legal, medical, and law enforcement versions of Dragon for Windows. Scheresky isn’t asking Apple to provide such custom vocabularies, but he needs to be able to add custom words to the vocabulary to carry out his work.
- Support for speaker-dependent continuous speech recognition: Currently, macOS’s speech recognition is speaker-independent, which means that it works pretty well for everyone. But Scheresky believes it needs to become speaker-dependent, so it can learn from your corrections to improve recognition accuracy. Also, Apple’s speech recognition isn’t continuous—it works for only a few minutes before stopping and needing to be reinvoked.
- Support for cursor positioning and mouse button events: Although Scheresky acknowledges that macOS’s Dictation Commands are pretty good and provide decent support for text cursor positioning, macOS has nothing like Nuance’s MouseGrid, which divides the screen into a 3-by-3 grid and enables the user to zoom in to a grid coordinate, then displaying another 3-by-3 grid to continue zooming. Nor does Apple have anything like Nuance’s mouse commands for moving and clicking the mouse pointer.
When Scheresky complained to Apple’s accessibility team about macOS’s limitations, they suggested the Switch Control feature, which enables users to move the pointer (along with other actions) by clicking a switch. He talks about this in a video.
Unfortunately, although Switch Control would let Scheresky control a Mac using a sip-and-puff switch or a head switch, such solutions would be both far slower than voice and a literal pain in the neck. There are some better alternatives for mouse pointer positioning:
- Dedicated software, in the form of a $35 app called iTracker.
- An off-the-shelf hack using Keyboard Maestro and Automator.
- An expensive head-mounted pointing device, although the SmartNav is $600 and the HeadMouse Nano and TrackerPro are both about $1000. It’s also not clear how well they interface with current versions of macOS.
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Regardless, if Apple enhanced macOS’s voice recognition in the ways Scheresky suggests, it would become significantly more useful and would give users with physical limitations significantly more control over their Macs… and their lives. If you’d like to help, Scheresky suggests submitting feature request feedback to Apple with text along the following lines (feel free to copy and paste it):
Because Nuance has discontinued Dragon Professional Individual for Mac, it is becoming difficult for disabled users to use the Mac. Please enhance macOS speech recognition to support user-added custom words, speaker-dependent continuous speech recognition that learns from user corrections to improve accuracy, and cursor positioning and mouse button events.
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Thank you for your consideration!
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Thanks for encouraging Apple to bring macOS’s accessibility features up to the level necessary to provide an alternative to Dragon Professional Individual for Mac. Such improvements will help both those who face physical challenges to using the Mac and those for whom dictation is a professional necessity.