Tablet PC for Jennifer

This is a short article that I wrote for the occupational therapist who works with one of my daughters who has Raynauds and Scleroderma.


There are a variety of different types of technology assistance that would benefit Jennifer in an educational setting.  My perception is that a range of techniques will be required that reflect the unpredictable nature of her symptoms and the variety of different tasks that she needs to perform.  There is no magic bullet solution that meets all of her needs.




When Jennifer has to write for extended periods there are a number of issues that need to be considered:


1.       Her ability to dictate in a fluent fashion is limited at this age

2.       Her hands get cold

3.       Her hands get tired

4.       Sometimes the movement/dexterity of her hands is limited


What solution options are available in addition to traditional pen and paper?


1.       Voice recognition

2.       Hand writing recognition

3.       Simple gesture recognition

4.       Different types of keyboard

5.       text substitution


Each option is considered in brief below:


Voice recognition


Voice recognition is still not a mature and easy to use technology.  Some of the important characteristics are described below:


1.       The software, (SW), requires training and this process requires some dedication and can be very frustrating

2.       The SW works best when the person dictating has mastery of fluent speaking

3.       The SW works best in a quiet environment, although some people have reported success in a normal office environment with a high quality noise cancelling microphone

4.       Considerable skill is required to use the SW for anything other than raw text input.  In addition keyboard less editing of text input can be complex and very frustrating. 


All of these characteristics are indicators that Voice Recognition will not be a magic bullet for Jennifer.


My view is that one should expect to use the SW as a complement to other techniques, where it is appropriate, and almost always alongside a keyboard and mouse or a stylus.


Hand writing recognition


Hand writing recognition has improved dramatically in accuracy and is now approaching 99%+ accuracy in SW that will be available in the mainstream operating systems by mid 2004.


Hand writing recognition may seem a strange option for someone who struggles with spelling, and traditional pen and paper however there are some significant advantages:


1.       The SW works for people with fairly bad handwriting.  Jennifer’s writing is neat by comparison

2.       The SW allows the person to write large letters, much larger than would be appropriate for pen and paper

3.       The SW recognises words by comparing against a dictionary, so for a poor speller accuracy can be increased significantly

4.       The SW does not require significant training

5.       Correction of words that have been incorrectly recognised is a fairly natural process and presents likely words from the dictionary improving spelling

6.       If the digitiser used for entering the text is a Tablet format PC, the screen is warm and will keep Jennifer’s writing hand warm.

7.       Using the same Tablet PC interface it is possible to transition between voice input and handwriting input seamlessly.  This is useful for example if the stylus is used for correction and voice for bulk text entry.  Or the stylus used for difficult words or for maths and voice used for descriptions.

8.       Maths SW is also available to automatically calculate the answers of maths problems

9.       Handwriting can be captured without conversion to text.  Or can be converted to text later if required


Voice recording


As a complement to the two techniques above, rather than convert voice to text, it is also possible to record voice directly.  There are some significant advantages to this as a complementary technique:


1.       If Jennifer is getting behind she can just record her voice and she or her SSA can translate to text later if needed

2.       Notes and annotations can be saved as voice

3.       Note taking SW is available that merges the voice and text streams so that it is possible to hear the person’s voice at the same point in time that a note was being written.


Simple gesture recognition


There are alternatives to hand writing recognition that involve significantly less hand movement and much simpler gestures.  This software can be used as a complement to the other techniques.  It has the following important characteristics:


1.       A stylus is used, so it has some of the benefits of handwriting recognition when used on a tablet, i.e. the writing surface is warm

2.       The stylus movements are much simpler, generally just straight lines and L shapes

3.       The movements can be small or large

4.       A game is available to aid in learning


Different types of keyboard


There are a wide variety of specialist keyboards available that allow single handed typing.  Gel keyboards for low impact etc.  Although the mobility of a device with these keyboards is limited and they are only likely to be of benefit for extended text input.


Text substitution


Used in conjunction with most of the above, this allows short words to automatically be expanded to long ones, or difficult things to type to be substituted with easy things.  It has the disadvantage of making people lazy, but it would help Jennifer.  For example if you type:


1.       dt, then the date and time can be substituted like this: 03/11/2004 @ 02:48 PM

2.       dont can be automatically converted to don’t

3.       address can be substituted to






Note taking


A lot of school work is about note taking, research and idea assembly for projects etc.  A variety of powerful techniques are available including, some of which have already been mentioned:


1.       Ability to record teachers words, make text notes and listen to the teachers words later to reinforce the text note or to clarify the note

2.       Ability to take notes using a keyboard, voice recording, handwriting and handwriting conversion to text.  Or a mixture of these

3.       Ability to annotate scanned in workbooks, text books and handouts, annotations can take any of the above forms

4.       Ability to aggregate information from lots of sources, scanned, web, and personal input into a project


All of these mechanisms are integrated in products like:


1.       Microsoft One note

2.       Microsoft Journal

3.       Agilix GoBinder™ For Students




Annotating is key for students.  In Jennifer’s case especially so as she is likely to focus on annotation of existing material and notes, rather than note taking.  The primary technologies available are:


1.       Freehand drawing using a digitiser, ideally integrated into the tablet PC format

2.       Freehand writing

3.       Handwriting converted to text, likely to be used for project work and other formal submissions

4.       Voice annotation, (see comments above)

5.       Voice to text, (see comments above)


Compilation/Project work


Project work is ever increasingly important.  Project work involves:


1.       Research

2.       Assembly of material

3.       Integration of information from diverse sources

4.       Annotation of this information

5.       Original input


All of these activities are served by Note taking solutions like Microsoft Onenote described previously.


Diagrams and Art


If any activity suited itself to the tablet, stylus driven input model it’s diagramming and art.  Software is available that:


1.       Converts freehand gestures to lines, circles, flow charts etc

2.       Software is available that allows the production or graphs, and other diagrams using mouse or stylus

3.       Voice or text annotation or freehand writing annotations can be added to these diagrams

4.       They allow a person with reduced dexterity to produce neat well organised work

5.       They provide powerful ways to correct mistakes, especially useful for people with low dexterity.


Other considerations


1.       It would be great if Jen did not have to carry lots of books, notes etc around with her.  A tablet format device with scanned notes and books or eBooks would be ideal.

2.       Preparation for the future.  The skills learnt in using technology to support the learning process would be invaluable in later life

3.       Self sufficiency.  The tools described would potentially reduce the level of SSA input, but make Jen more self sufficient and equip her better for later life.




1.       Jennifer should continue to spend a significant amount of time reading out loud at school and home, as this will improve her fluency and prepare the ground for voice recognition SW later

2.       Jennifer should undertake a trial of a tablet PC, recommended to be Tablet PC version 2004, (available mid year), for approximately 2 weeks for handwriting recognition.  Potentially small changes made now in her style could significantly improve successful use later

3.       Jennifer should begin to play with voice recognition SW at home, (equipment is available), so that it comes easily and naturally to her when she has to learn it for real

4.       Jennifer should begin to play with Microsoft OneNote to keep her personal diary, so that she becomes familiar with navigation, and use, (voice annotation, voice recording etc)

5.       Consideration should be given to equipping her with a Tablet PC and handheld scanner during her first year at high school.  Access to ebooks and scanned books should be explored through the school and school book suppliers 

Steve Richards

I'm retired from work as a business and IT strategist. now I'm travelling, hiking, cycling, swimming, reading, gardening, learning, writing this blog and generally enjoying good times with friends and family

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