How Microsoft's Dictation Update Could Help With Accessibility

What you say is what you get

Key Takeaways

  • Microsoft is set to upgrade the dictation system in Word and Outlook later this year.
  • The updates will add auto-punctuation and a new toolbar with controls and other options.
  • The company says the improvements to dictation will make it easier and more effective for those who use it.
The sign for the NYC Microsoft Store.
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Microsoft's new dictation update will make it much easier for people with disabilities who rely on their voices for the written word.

Microsoft recently revealed plans to update the dictation system in Word and Outlook, adding a new auto-punctuation feature, as well as an entirely separate toolbar to help users control how it all works. These changes currently are slated to arrive later this year, and experts believe they will help make dictation a better option for users, especially those who struggle with learning disabilities.

"Studies show that using dictation systems as a technology for users with disabilities creates a more cohesive learning environment and has improved their way of life," Tim Clarke, director of sales and marketing at SEOBlog, told Lifewire via email.

"Writing is a skill that will affect all students' lives beyond their educational career; that's why practical instruction and application are crucial at this stage."

Expanding Recognition

Dictation systems offer both convenience and efficiency for users, especially those who may struggle with learning or other disabilities that make writing more difficult for them. By improving the system it already has in place, Microsoft can open the door for a better service and offer improved accessibility for users.

A person reading from papers in front of a laptop computer as if dictating notes.
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One way the company is doing this is with the introduction of a new toolbar, which the Microsoft 365 roadmap says will allow you to activate dictation, customize auto-punctuation, and even open different helpful sources on voice commands and other features. 

By putting these controls directly on the screen, Microsoft is ensuring users have full control over the system, without forcing them to learn a bunch of hotkey combinations. There are, of course, still hotkeys, but the toolbar is there should you want to use it.

Auto punctuation is a key part of the update, as well, offering a simple way for you to add periods, commas, and other punctuation marks to your writing, without having to say them out loud. 

"Auto punctuation tries to add punctuation marks to your dictation without you having to say 'period' or 'comma.' Punctuation is determined by the pauses in dictation," Microsoft says pm its website

Users also can turn this particular feature off if they want, and Microsoft recommends speaking as naturally and fluidly as possible when using it.

"Studies show that using dictation systems as a technology for users with disabilities creates a more cohesive learning environment and has improved their way of life."

To Dictate or Not to Dictate

Those worried about private details from their transcriptions being shared will find comfort in the fact that Microsoft has assured users the dictation feature included in Word and Outlook doesn't store any of the voice recordings it captures. Instead, once the transcription is complete, the service deletes any record of the recordings.

Privacy concerns aside, the accessibility that dictation adds to programs like Outlook and Word is important.

According to Clarke, "A reliable dictation tool that can provide an adequate education for students with learning disabilities, improves writing mechanics, promotes independence, and helps avoid writing anxiety."

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