Dictation Software

Also known as speech-to-text, dictation software transcribes what a user says into text on their computer, allowing users to “type” without using a keyboard. Many programs also have voice commands that allow you to navigate, correct, and format the text you’ve entered.

Lots of factors contribute to how accurately a dictation program will be able to transcribe your words, from the program and microphone you’re using to your accent and pronunciation. Below are some general tips that should make whatever program you’re using more accurate:

  • Use an external microphone, not the one built-in to your phone or laptop
  • Speak clearly, at a consistent speed and volume
  • Try to stay at the same distance away from your microphone
  • Try to minimize background noise
  • Think through what you’re about to say before you start speaking
  • Just focus on getting your thoughts on the page at first; you can go back to correct and format the text later on

Who can benefit?

  • People with reduced or no mobility in their hands who may struggle to use a keyboard or mouse
  • People who want to focus on getting their thoughts down without worrying about spelling
  • People who find it easier or quicker to convey their thoughts aloud than through writing
  • People who experience “blank page paralysis” from looking at an empty page

Below is an example of a dictation program used at the University of Illinois, as well as some free alternatives available to anyone. The free alternatives listed are by no means exhaustive, and many won’t have all the features available from paid programs. However, they do give a good example of the basic functionalities available, and may help determine whether it’s worth pursuing more feature-rich alternatives.

Disclaimer: DRES and the University of Illinois do not formally endorse or recommend any specific software programs. The programs listed below serve as examples of different categories of AT, with a focus on the software available to University of Illinois students registered with DRES with assistive technology as part of their accommodations. For vendors interested in having their AT programs featured on the DRES website, please contact us at dres-accessible-media@illinois.edu.

Dragon NatuallySpeaking

Platforms: Mac, Windows, Android, iOS.

Dragon is among the best-selling dictation programs on the market, and consistently rates among the most accurate in terms of speech recognition. Dragon NaturallySpeaking can also be trained to your voice, increasing accuracy the more you use it. It’s available to DRES students with a speech-to-text accommodation during exams taken in the Testing Accommodation Center, as well as on computers at the Beckwith Residential Support Services at Nugent Hall.

Feature Highlights

  • Dictation: Transcribes spoken words to text
  • Improving accuracy: Learns to understand you better as you read text and make corrections
  • Custom vocabulary: Add words to its dictionary, and train it on how you pronounce words and phrases for better accuracy
  • Audio playback: Replay your dictation to help you make corrections
  • Voice commands: For text selection, font formatting, and document navigation
  • Computer commands: Verbally launch and switch windows, send keyboard shortcuts, and move the mouse
  • Learning Center: Pop-up window gives a list of available commands for the program you’re working in

See it in action

Dragon offers demo videos that showcase its features and offer tips and tricks for better dictation. Their Dictation video gives a good overview of what NaturallySpeaking looks like in action.

Free Dictation Alternatives

Microsoft Dictate

Platform: Microsoft 365.
How to get it: Dictate is part of Microsoft’s Immersive Reader tool suite, which supports Universal Design for Learning. It comes built into Word, OneNote, and Outlook.

Google Docs Voice Typing

Platform: Chrome browser.
How to get it: Voice Typing comes built into Google Docs in Chrome.

Windows Speech

Platform: Windows.
How to get it: Speech comes built into Windows.

Apple Dictation

Platforms: Mac, iOS.
How to get it: Dictation comes built into Mac and iOS.

Gboard keyboard

Platforms: Android, iOS.
How to get it: Download Gboard here.

For More Information

If any of these programs sounded useful to you, contact your Access Specialist or begin the accommodation process today to get an assistive technology program added to your accommodations. For questions or to request personalized AT training, email AMS at dres-accessible-media@illinois.edu and include “[AT]” in the subject line.