Hands-free mind mapping

Written By: Peter Abrahams
Content Copyright © 2008 Bloor. All Rights Reserved.

Human beings have two major methods of communication: words and pictures. Mind maps bring these two together in a highly structured and powerful way. Up to now, creating mind maps either on paper or using a computer has required a significant level of dexterity. The keyboard was required for entry texts; the mouse for creating the structure of the diagram.

This has meant that mind mapping software has been unavailable to people with disabilities such as: quadriplegia, MS, RSI and Parkinson’s disease. A recent collaboration between MindJet and Nuance has enabled the creation of complete mind maps solely through the use of voice commands. This has brought together the excellent voice recognition capabilities of Nuance’s Dragon Naturally Speaking (see my article).

To begin building a mind map the user issues the instruction ‘New topic’ then the software tools starts building a map based on the voice commands. Over 150 voice-enabled functions have been incorporated into this release and the users can transcribe and create MindManager 8 visualisations, which can be manipulated, crawled, scaled, zoomed, printed and exported by voice. Text can be dictated directly into topics with formatting, editing and search capabilities.

These functions have been developed to help able-bodied people to create mind maps with greater freedom and speed. I can imagine it being used in a brainstorming session, where the facilitator is interacting with the participants by moving between them, and then still be able to create the map without having to be chained to the keyboard and mouse.

Exciting as that scenario may be I am really more excited about the idea of the map being created by a person with no use of their arms or legs. The map might just be a way for the disabled person to organise their thoughts more easily, or it might be a way for them to communicate their ideas to a wider audience. In fact the technology should enable them to be the leader of the brainstorming session and to create maps on the fly.

This is a great example of technology that creates a level playing-field for people whose brain is willing but their body less able.

This collaboration provided a second benefit to people with disabilities. To make voice activation possible it was necessary to ensure that all commands were available via the keyboard, as the voice commands get translated under the covers to keyboard strokes. This has a side benefit for people who cannot, or prefer not to, use the mouse. They can navigate, create and modify maps without resort to the mouse. I found this particularly useful when exploring an existing map as I could very quickly open and close sections of the map concentrating on areas of interest.

The package is called VoxEnable and was developed for Nuance and MindJet by their partner Citnexus. The product is very reasonably priced especially if it is bought as part of a package with Dragon, MindManager or both.