Veterans Affairs Gets It Right!

The author uses her computer without looking at it or touching it

The author before her computer wearing a microphone headset

I began teaching speech-recognition 15 years ago. At that time, I was employed by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs as a subject matter expert. Many veterans have multiple disabilities such as an inability to use their hands and blindness. They find speech-recognition is the most effective way to work with the computer.

In the case of veterans who are blind, they have to use an additional program called a screen reader. This program translates the text on the computer screen into speech. Speech-recognition software does the reverse by translating what the user speaks into text. You need bridging technology to use both technologies together. This is what DictationBridge does.

When I had been working there about a month my chief of service walked in the door. He seemed almost hesitant but then he spoke. “How long would it take you to learn to teach Dragon?”

I, in my turn,  hesitated. It was a loaded question.

I came to the SBRC after six years teaching assistive technology in the state of Maine. I had two students in Maine who could neither see nor use a computer keyboard. Using a computer without looking at it or touching it isn’t easy. It’s always required bridging technology. Without bridging technology the user is unaware of what a speech recognition program has heard you say. Since speech recognition programs “learn” as you dictate this is problematic. One of the things bridging technologies do is speak back the words that have been recognized.

and That’s a major feature of DictationBridge.


Over the years the bridging technology has changed. It’s become more sophisticated and more complicated. And, at the time, it was a mystery to me.

But he was my chief of service and he was giving me marching orders. “I honestly don’t know,” was my reply. “But I’ll find out.”

So I got to work and In about a month I was ready. They brought in my first veteran who needed to be able to use integrated speech input/speech output. I’ll call him Jake.

Due to a traumatic brain injury Jake used a wheelchair. He could stand and walk a few steps but the wheelchair made his life a lot easier. His vision was complicated. Sometimes it appeared he could see. He did things he shouldn’t be able to do if he was blind.


I consulted our optometrist and psychologist and they helped me understand this particular veteran’s vision.

Jake and I got to work.

When Jake successfully dictated his first document we had a little celebration.


For me, there is nothing more rewarding than seeing a student learn and thrive. And that’s exactly what Jake did. He entered the SBRC hesitantly. He had experienced so much trauma in his life. He had experienced a lot of failure.

As our work progressed Jake changed. He began laughing at his mistakes. We both laughed at the inevitable misrecognitions that are just part of the landscape of speech input.

Pretty soon Jake was a dictation rockstar.


The Department of Veterans Affairs, my current employer, does a lot of things right! Blind rehabilitation is one of those things. It gave Jake his life back.




4 Responses to Veterans Affairs Gets It Right!

  1. Sara Saint Jean July 9, 2016 at 11:53 am #

    I love hearing these stories!

    • smartin July 9, 2016 at 4:51 pm #

      Those were the days, right, Sara?

      • Sara Saint Jean July 10, 2016 at 6:31 pm #

        Yes mam. We may not be as busy as years ago but still blessed with some business and still supporting our veterans.
        Miss working with you, so glad to be in touch. I enjoy your blog and look forward to reading more!


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