Help from the world, or typing vs. speech

Sometimes I grieve for typing. This may not seem logical to you. Sometimes it’s not even logical to me — from the purely physical standpoint, speech is faster than typing or handwriting for me. This was true before and after the damage to my hand, with or without word completion. And certainly, speaking doesn’t cause pain or twitching in my hand. Therefore, my voice is more convenient as both a conversational and a functional (input device) tool, and I can speak well. I have the luck of being (mostly) speaking-hearing.

Cognitively/emotionally, though, it’s a totally different level. Speech in general requires more energy, whether in conversation or dictation. I don’t always have it. Speech is also somewhat amorphous for me, which is why I always use the captions on my DVDs even when I can hear the actors. (My explanation: “I’m such a word person that I even read TV.”) I need the bones of words. The only reason I can use Dragon this well is that my reading vocabulary outstrips my spoken. I don’t know if that’s a paradox or not. I mean that I think in print, then stretch my mouth over the words and watch them appear. The print comes first, though I do realize that I can’t separate writing from sound altogether; I dictate as well as I do because I learned to read phonically. (I’m only stating a personal fact here, not generalizing about phonics versus whole language.)

Many times, though, I’ll spell aloud a word I’ve read but never heard. Learning to read phonically didn’t prevent me from “feeling” silent letters, either. I needed to feel everything, actually. When I typed, I still couldn’t type a whole word at one handful. I typed in the way some people spell at spelling bees — by syllable, or double consonant, or a pleasing vowel combination. There were always tiny hesitations, not all having to do with my reflexes: I had to feel the rhythm of the letters falling. Word completion didn’t interrupt the pattern as much as you would think.

Perhaps it is a bit of synesthesia, or hyperlexia, or something. But all I know is that printed/typed language felt like my native tongue as soon as I learned to read enough words. My eyes are tactile. It was natural, for instance, for me to say that the word “reluctant” limps, dragging a leg just around the L. Typing allowed me to see and feel what I was saying — by feeling the keys I could feel the words, assembling them and knowing I was saying what I wanted. There was time, if people were willing to wait. I could finish a sentence. I could use more words, and there was less risk of someone attributing incongruous tones to what I said. I could be blunt. My humor came across better.

I say all this because it makes me feel like a hypocrite or an ingrate, and it shouldn’t. People think that because I can speak, I would never want to communicate another way and shouldn’t miss whatever that way would be. I say it in order to remember the one time anyone said, “I don’t understand it, but I believe you.” I had tried to explain it to a linguistics professor. He took down an anthology and pointed at a poem, very sensory — “Blackberry Picking” by Seamus Heaney — and asked me if that was what reading itself felt like. I had to say Yes-and-No. Some time later, I tried to explain my exhaustion after an oral presentation. In that tone people use to bring you into a comparison, though I am not autistic, he mentioned an autistic relative and said, as though groping for what to say, “You deserve help — from… the world.” He wasn’t talking about my hands, or my body at all.

I say this to tell you the same. Go ahead and grieve for typing from time to time if you have to. And it isn’t wrong for a speaking person to want some augmentative communication now and then; there is no One True Language. Words deserve help from the world.

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6 Responses to Help from the world, or typing vs. speech

  1. jadelennox says:

    Thank you so much for this. I grieve for typing. Some things I can only do with the keyboard, even now, and I do them even though I know how resource-burning they are going to be. But I can’t write code by voice, and I can’t explain why not. So yes, I am faster in many ways when I dictate, but I grieve for typing.

  2. hand2mouth says:

    You’re welcome. Strange, isn’t it…

  3. gfmueden says:

    hand2mouth, what you say is interesting, but it is incomplete. To get the most from your words and apply what might be learned to other situations, we need to know more about two things: (1) your limitations and (2) what tools you are using, both in some detail, both in some detail. The devil is in the detais, otherwise I wouldn’t ask.

  4. hand2mouth says:

    In my “About My Blog” page, I mention that I was born hemiplegic. “About Me” clarifies that I have since damaged my functional hand. As for my tools, my constant is Dragon NaturallySpeaking, mentioned in many posts including this one and “About Me.” I have linked to my Maltron one-handed keyboard in this post, used rarely now but occasionally on really good days. Other tools come as I find and blog them. I have a sidebar of products I’ve tried, most of which I still use.

    I actually am deliberately vague about my disability for a couple reasons. First is that assistive technology applies to many things, and my posts are more about how to use the technology than they are about me personally; with this post as an exception, I’m not in the habit of getting personal. Second is that my disability is not one thing – it affected a little of everything. I can’t enumerate when everything intersects. And some of it I don’t even understand. The typing/speaking dichotomy in this post, for example.

    I hope this clarifies. I may have to merge my “About” pages. Maybe that will help.

  5. fq says:

    I think I understand, it’s not the same. I remember when I could type freely; it was another workflow, a different thought process. It is as when you play the piano and the notes seem to come up somewhat unconsciously; so it happens with keyboards and pencils and words.
    Speaking requires more of you in certain ways, as you say, it’s more tiring.

    Love your site!

  6. hand2mouth says:

    I like the piano-to-words analogy very much. 🙂 Thank you.

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