Word Prediction or Word Intrusion? When Software Has Its Own Vocabulary

Today’s digital world is full of apps routinely telling users what to say next. Help or nuisance? It depends.

When Word Prediction = Assistive Technology

Sometimes, word prediction/auto-correct is not only helpful but essential to daily functioning. Says Andi Fry (BridgingApps Coordinator for Montgomery County Outreach) of her adult daughter’s “Grid” AAC:

“Megan uses an eye-gaze-operated device for speaking and writing. The word-prediction function pops up four different options when she begins to type, and also tracks word-use frequency. With eye-gaze technology, it takes a while to type out sentences, so ‘word prediction’ is critical for Megan to keep up with schoolwork and conversations in today’s fast-paced world.”

Program Director Cristen Reat says, “My son Vincent has cognitive disabilities, a visual impairment, and fine motor challenges. He really benefits from word-prediction software, because it reduces the number of keystrokes needed.”

“Speech-to-text users can really benefit from AI word prediction,” adds Alejandra Gonzalez, Digital Navigator. “One app I recommend is inku. It allows users to listen to suggested words, and there are also options to customize pronunciation and spelling.” 

And from Tara Rocha, Digital Learning Specialist: “Key-by-key typing can be a problem for many. There are many disabilities that make it hard to isolate fingers to one touchscreen area, especially with small buttons. I like software that can predict and correct words; insert punctuation; and use keyboards for different languages. Grammarly ‘speaks’ over 50 languages, and also offers AI software for editing assistance.”

Who’s the Boss Here, Anyway?

What drives both disabled and “typically abled” users up the wall, however, is when word prediction becomes “word intrusion.”

Have you ever:

  • Wrestled with software that kept changing your preferred words back to its preferences?
  • Reached for a touchscreen to enter a suggested word, only to hit another word because the choices shuffled before your finger made contact? “Drives me bonkers on my WeightWatchers app,” says Katherine Swarts, BridgingApps Digital Content Writer.
  • Realized you’d sent a text that, after auto-correct got hold of it, made little sense? “I usually love the ‘text replacement’ option,” says Cristen Reat, “and I’ve set it to write ‘BridgingApps’ when I enter ‘ba,’ so I don’t have to keep typing the whole word. But text replacement is really hard to override, and at least once when I tried to message someone that ‘I’ve got your back,’ it arrived reading, ‘I’ve got your BridgingApps.’”

Fortunately, such issues have decreased in the age of lay-user-friendly apps. However, “word intrusion” peeves are far from eliminated. Tara Rocha notes, “I use Siri a lot, but I’ve always had to check it because it kept entering the wrong names for family members, especially my daughter Kasiana. And for some of my students whose voices are hard to understand, Siri isn’t an option at all.”

Alejandra Gonzalez adds: “When I receive word-prediction complaints from speech-to-text clients, it usually involves a speech impediment the computer can’t make sense of.”

Not Always the Computer’s Fault

And of course, some word-prediction peeves involve software that did exactly what it was told. Who doesn’t know the experience of hitting Send prematurely, or writing “monkey” instead of “money”? And who hasn’t been on the receiving end of someone’s else’s mistake—or of a writing/speech habit that just plain annoys you?

Says Tara Rocha: “A pet peeve for me is getting a message without capitalization—and knowing how many teenagers consider it ‘cool’ to do that deliberately.” Fads and conflicting tastes aside, “I’ve gotten some confusing texts that were sent without being checked for errors.”

Nowadays, some technologies can help you avoid making mistakes yourself. Andi Fry notes: “Another good thing about the Grid program is, even if the wrong words pop up at first, it’ll wait for users to complete the right word; it doesn’t choose anything for you. So it’s easy to correct the occasional error.”

Or, Just Turn It Off

To further reduce word-prediction headaches:

  • Know your own device/app and its idiosyncrasies.
  • Be extra careful with any “automatically send” function.
  • Look up your device’s full list of word-prediction-type functions that can be turned on or off. Most devices have this list in the Settings app under Keyboard: Keyboard is on Settings’s General menu in iOS and the System or Language menu in Android.
  • Choose and use your preferred functions. Says Cristen Reat: “‘Show Predictions Inline,’ a newer feature in iMessages, puts word options in the message field rather than below. I find that really annoying: it just interferes with my thought process! So I keep the inline suggestions turned off. Makes a big difference to me!”

And always remember: as the human user, you ultimately have the last word.

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