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Unable to type, comedian with multiple sclerosis connects with his voice

Rich had been experiencing functional decline from multiple sclerosis. He had used his computer to control all aspects of his professional career, but tremors made it nearly impossible to use a keyboard or mouse. In time, he learned how easy and convenient it was to use Dragon NaturallySpeaking to launch applications, click on specific links in a webpage by name, control the mouse, and dictate text. With the help of Dragon, Rich was able to “open his world again.”

Rich’s performance engagements were getting less frequent, and he had not had an opportunity to run his evening stand-up comedy skills class in quite some time. Rich, 46-year-old stand-up comedian living in the greater Boston area, had been experiencing functional decline secondary to his multiple sclerosis diagnosis. He had previously used his computer to control all aspects of his professional career, and found it a useful tool for keeping in touch with friends and family. The tremors and ataxia in his arms and hands made it nearly impossible for him to use a keyboard or mouse, though. As a result, Rich was unable to use social media and email as means of communication to secure gigs or recruit students to attend his class.  As those facing accessibility challenges can experience over time, he started to feel isolated and noticed a thinning of his personal social network because of his inability to connect electronically with others.

Rich then turned to Easter Seals to determine strategies and resources that could restore his ability to utilize a computer and reconnect with the world; as his assistive technology specialist, I’ve been fortunate enough to witness his journey to rediscovering his passion over the past few months. By stabilizing his arm and using some accessibility settings in his computer’s operating system, Rich was finally able to control the mouse using the numeric keypad on his keyboard. While it was a good start, this strategy did not work well when his tremors were at their worst, and it was still too difficult for him to type. Hoping to find a more robust solution, he then tried Dragon NaturallySpeaking with a headset microphone. Right out of the box, he found that the program accurately typed what he dictated and allowed him to communicate by email with promoters and club owners, update his profile on Facebook, and increase the size of his network by letting others know about his upcoming performances.

At first, Rich utilized the keyboard’s numeric keypad for all his mouse tasks and utilized Dragon NaturallySpeaking for entering and editing narrative text. Before long, he learned how easy and convenient it was to launch applications, click on specific links in a webpage by name, and control the mouse. By using the Click command, Rich was able to quickly engage with pop-up windows when updating applications, saving documents, and downloading files. Rich utilized the press commands to replace the numerous keystrokes he would use for navigating around the screen in the document such as Press Tab, Press Spacebar and Press Enter. Using Mousegrid, Mousemove, and Mouseclick commands, Rich made short work when clicking on items in the webpages he visited for networking and promoting. He even configured the software to launch automatically when his computer booted up, as it became his primary means for interacting with the world both professionally and personally.

By using Dragon, I was able to see Rich resume an active role in his career and personal connections. “Dragon has really opened up my world again,” he told me during his last assistive technology training session. “I have four people lined up for my next comedy class, and I have three gigs scheduled in the next two months. I only wish I’d started using Dragon sooner.”

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  • Pooky

    I wish Nuance would 1) lower the price of Powermic II. 2) make it work with all Dragon editions.

Kevin Berner

About Kevin Berner

Kevin Berner is a registered and licensed occupational therapist and certified assistive technology professional who works as an Assistive Technology Specialist for Easter Seals of Massachusetts. He is an adjunct faculty member at Boston University, and frequently presents at professional conferences. Kevin’s clinical area of specialty is in assistive technology and neurological rehabilitation, and has worked in acute rehabilitation, long-term care, schools, and community environments. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Human Physiology and a Masters of Science degree in Occupational Therapy from Boston University. Kevin enjoys helping individuals utilize assistive technology to engage in activities that are meaningful to them.