Word prediction program is a great equalizer

First published in Hamilton Spectator February 9, 2001

It is used daily. It is everywhere. It is one of the most powerful tools society has ever used or ever will use. It is the written word. This amazing tool enables us to exchange and share opinions, experiences, stories, ideas, wants, needs, instructions, information, etc. It comes in many forms -- books, magazines, newspapers, journals, manuals, e-mail and Web pages, to name only some. Mastering the skills of reading and writing is so crucial to our well-being in today's world. In order to function with competence in terms of employment, safety, recreation, health and the general care of our lives, we must interact with the printed word in one way or another. My own journey into the huge text world was a long and difficult one. Due to my lack of speech and inability to experiment with the spoken word, I encountered tremendous problems learning to read and write. I guess it is because of these difficulties that I hold the gift of being literate and able to function in the print environment in such high esteem. If you are reading this column, you, too, are able to operate in the literacy world. We are blessed beyond measure because, surprisingly enough, a high percentage of the population has trouble when it comes to reading and/or writing.

I well remember that period of my past when I looked at a page of text and couldn't decode the meaning of most of the words. Talk about being scared and fearful! I firmly believe that if anyone can't grasp the basics of literacy training in the mainstream educational system, we need to provide alternative ways to learn or to cope. I am thinking of the many literacy councils and other programs in our community that offer ways to learn the skills required.

Living in the age of the personal computer, we have word processors at our fingertips, with spell checkers and thesauruses that provide that little extra help many of us need. For individuals who need further help when it comes to feeling comfortable creating text on a computer, there are programs called word prediction that have the capability of predicting the next word.

For the past two years, I have been blessed enough to be a member of a team at Bloorview MacMillan Centre in Toronto working on this very subject. Our department believes that we have developed a state-of-the-art word prediction program called WordQ. WordQ is a new product for people of all ages and levels of writing ability. With its exceptional word prediction capabilities and effective text-to-speech feedback, writing is made easier for those who need assistance with spelling, grammar and punctuation. And unlike other writing tools that require a dedicated word-processing application, WordQ software can be used with any standard Windows application.

Giving a state-of-the-art prediction tool to a child, a teenager or an adult can be a great equalizer. I personally believe that WordQ can offer a totally alternative way of writing for anyone who has writing difficulties. Not only does this software predict the next word, but it has text-to-speech feedback capabilities that I find very useful.

On a personal level, I use the software day in and day out. Working largely out of my home, I do most of my correspondence by e-mail. I also do a lot of writing on disability issues - for presentations or to be published in magazines or this column.

WordQ levels the playing field in the world of text. It provides the cues that are needed when I am preparing any document, from writing an e-mail message to a friend to preparing an erudite column for publication. WordQ is able to give or predict the next word 90 per cent of the time. My writing experiences would be hugely different and very limited without this amazing application.

The following is from a parent, whose daughter has been using WordQ for the past few months. Julie has really improved her written work for school. Book reports that were almost impossible to understand and very short because of her frustration level, now have to be shortened. We are working on acquiring a laptop so she will be able to use WordQ at school. I know this will become an invaluable asset to help her progress and self-esteem in the school environment and in the work place in the future. WordQ is an excellent tool for Julie, and I hope that it will reach others who so desperately need a program like this."

For more information, visit our Web site at www.wordq.com.

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