When most people hear the phrase ‘assistive technology’ they presume these are specialist tools for the disability community, but accessibility tools can benefit every writer. Accessibility tools are simply about making the process easier for humans, not just because of a unique communication need. These tools are designed to help writers get the words on the page in whichever way works for them.
As someone living with a degenerative neurological illness that impacts me physically (I actually can’t type anymore so rely completely on voice control technology to write) and impacts my memory (I rely on memory prompts to be able to complete projects) accessibility really matters to me on a personal level, and I am always happy to share videos or advice for anyone looking to make the switch.
I’m also passionate about it as I believe assistive technology can help ALL writers. The number one complaint from writers is often that they simply do not have enough time to be able to write – assistive technology means that you can ‘write’ while doing other tasks. Busy parents may find talk-to-text technology allows them to ‘write’ while looking after their kids, students may find transcripts mean they spend less time staring at a screen, less confident writers may find editing software increases their confidence. The list is endless.
Closed Captions/ Transcripts
One of the best assistive technologies on the market is otter.ai. For anyone in a Zoom meeting this technology is a must. (The basic version is free, so stop what you’re doing and download it right now.) It not only provides closed captions but offers a downloadable transcript which means you will never need to take notes in a meeting again.
For writers who would prefer to communicate through the spoken word rather than typing, Talk-to-text software enables you to literally speak your words onto the screen. The major advantages of this are that speaking can be quicker than typing, you can write even when your hands are busy, and dialogue will appear far more realistic as you are literally speaking them out loud.
There are a variety of options for talk-to-text available, including Dictation.io, Dragon and Apple Dictation. I would also recommend the app Voice Finger if you are switching to voice controls as it turns your entire screen into a voice-controlled format (rather than using a mouse) which in real terms means if you’re in the middle of doing the washing up and suddenly think of an awesome line, your laptop will turn on with voice controls rather than you having to stop, manually turn the laptop on and switch to voice control.
Abilipad is a great app for the iPad as it has talk-to-text features and a customisable keyboard. If you are using an iPad or tablet it can also be useful to purchase a stand to keep it secure – a cookbook stand works just as well as any of the fancier models available if you are looking to keep costs down.
And if you’re looking for editing software with an integrated read aloud option, Autocrit has a handy read-back feature.
Although talk-to-text has a number of benefits there are a couple of challenges. You’ll have to take a little time to learn how to use it, including speaking the punctuation into your work, background noise can sometimes be an issue (unless you want your dog/child/partner/noisy neighbour to make an appearance in your work), and you can’t really write in public (especially not thriller writers – your fellow coffee shop customers may not presume your brilliant murder plot is for your novel).
Better Pen Solutions
If you like to write using a pen but are looking for a more comfortable and ergonomic option Yoropen and PenAgain (both between £7-15) can be beneficial, especially when used in conjunction with hand stabilisers, wrist supports and writing slopes.
One final thought: most writers now use social media, and it’s really important to educate yourself on the small accessibility tools you can add to make your own platform or blog accessible. Alt text on Instagram and Twitter is super important and takes seconds – you just describe in words what is in the photo posted, and anyone using a screen reader is magically able to appreciate every aspect of your post.
Finding the right tools for you
Any tools or technologies that make life easier and more comfortable for you as a writer will help the words flow more easily – whether that’s software, an app, or your practical writing set up. If you need help getting started, reach out to other writers and the disability arts community for advice. We want to empower each writer to share their words in the way that works best for them.