A few months ago, I wrote a post on how I use voice technology to continue working with my ALS condition. Since that post was written, Microsoft released a new voice technology called Voice Access as a part of the Windows 11H2 update. I’m going to talk a little bit about my experience using it. It has changed how I interact with my PC and which tools I choose for voice to text.
You can turn Voice Access on if you’re running the latest version of Windows 11. (Voice Access is not available in Windows 10). You simply go to the Accessibility settings and choose the Voice Access option under Speech. Once you have turned on Voice Access, you will see a bar across the top of your primary screen as shown in the image below. This is how you know you have Voice Access ready to go.
Voice Access is much more than a voice to text tool. Voice Access includes many command tools including a mouse grid option which allows you to grid your screen and select items on the screen using only your voice. Voice Access supports commands such as Open and Close for application windows. You can find out the full list of commands that are available to you in Voice Access here.
How do I use Voice Access?
I typically have Voice Access on all the time except when I’m in meetings. (It will try to type everything that’s said in the meeting, so it needs to be turned off at that time.) There are only two tools where I use Voice Access less often. That would be Outlook and Word. More on that in a bit.
Because Voice Access alternates between dictation and commands, I able to use it when working with most tools. For example, with Windows Mail I will use it to dictate an e-mail, and then click Send to send the same e-mail. When I say “click send”, Voice Access finds the Send button on the window. If there are more than one, it will give me an option to select which Send I meant to click. I find the overall experience pretty good as it allows me to switch between dictation and commands without issue.
I use Voice Access a lot when working with Teams, WhatsApp, and other chat-based tools. Voice Access allows me to have a good voice to text tool in applications that typically do not have great accessibility support. At times, I have used Voice Access instead of Dictation in Office 365, especially when working with PowerPoint and Excel. Neither of these are particularly voice to text friendly and Dictation in PowerPoint is significantly lacking.
Using Office 365 Dictation
I primarily still use Office 365 Dictation when working with Word and with Outlook. Dictation in both tools responds quicker than Voice Access. It also handles some of the issues that are currently being worked on in Voice Access such as punctuation. For example, the bulk of this blog post was authored in Word using Office 365 Dictation because it’s quick, simple, and works well within the context of voice to text.
Other Insights into How I Work with These Tools
Office 365 Dictation is fully online. This means if you lose your internet connection, you lose the ability to use that function. Voice Access on the other hand does not have this dependency and will continue to work without a connection.
The commands between these two tools still vary quite a bit. For example, text formatting is very different between the two tools. In Word, they use “capitalize” to capitalize a word using Dictation. (By the way this has been improved since the last time I wrote my blog post. This improved capability in Office 365 Dictation is huge). In Voice Access you have to say “capitalize that” to capitalize a word or selected words. When you use that same command in Office 365, it will capitalize the whole sentence. This is true of other formatting commands between the two tools.
There are enough variances in those commands to cause frequent issues when working with the two tools interchangeably. I find myself using the wrong command to create a new line or change the case of words regularly. This is something you will have to work through if you go back and forth between the two tools.
I started working with Voice Access while it was still in preview. I am actively working with the Voice Access team and providing feedback about the tool. While many updates have been made, there are still issues with the tool as it continues to mature. If you’ve been working with Windows Speech Recognition and Voice Typing, I would still recommend switching to Voice Access as the experience is much better. Just keep in mind it is still new and you may still run into issues here and there as they continue to improve the product.
When Voice Access became available, I switched immediately to Voice Access as my primary voice command and dictation tool when not using Office 365 (Word and Outlook). I think that this technology will continue to improve and make voice accessibility better for those of us with limited functionality in our hands and arms. As you know from previous conversations, I’m not a huge fan of Dragon because of how it changed my workflow and made things more difficult for me to do in general. Voice Access is a more natural fit into my workflow, and I like it considerably better. I do find myself going back and forth between my roller bar mouse and using a complete voice solution when my hands get tired. That speaks volumes of the work done in Voice Access to help someone like me continue to function by having options in the tools I can use. I look forward to the improvements as they come along.