Often when we solve the problems of the few we enhance the lives of the many. In 1990 when the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed by President George H Bush, things like wheelchair ramps became required in places of public accommodation. Now, the busy parent pushing their child in a stroller zips off and on sidewalks and in and out of buildings with ease. That’s why when I ran across Ghotit Real Writer, a text editor with advanced technologies tailored to the needs of people with dyslexia and dysgraphia, I became not only excited by the lives it is changing today, but also the additional lives it may enhance in the future.
Cognitive disabilities such as dyslexia and dysgraphia and other disabilities that challenge learning and academic performance can end up on the back burner, go unnoticed or not be readily perceived as a disability. They are non-visible; in other words, not as obvious or plainly understood as someone with a paralysis in a wheelchair or a person who is blind walking with the assistance of a white cane. This misperception coupled with the challenges of the disability itself, present a unique and difficult set of circumstances that can make everyday functions like writing a note or sending an email both challenging and embarrassing.
Conversely, cognitive disabilities may be a bit more relatable to some of us. We all have opportunities to relate to someone with a disability through our lives. The football player that breaks his leg during the big game gets a taste of what it’s like to lose mobility. We all get the smallest hint of what it might be like to be blind when we stumble through our bedroom late at night to find the light switch. However, some of us, as I did when I was young, may struggle academically. I’m not talking about the class clown that doesn’t apply themselves. I’m talking about those of us that tried but struggled to understand the material or do well on the test.
I realized as I interviewed Ofer Chermesh, CEO and founder of Ghotit who himself suffers from dyslexia, that I, in fact could relate to his struggles in a small way because, unlike breaking your leg, my cognitive struggle with academics never went away and bleed into my professional life. I also realized that in no way could I understand just how profoundly his dyslexia affected his everyday life or what an impact the creation of Ghotit would have on him, not just as an entrepreneur, but as a person that had struggled with written communication every day.
OFER CHERMESH AND THE NEED FOR GHOTIT
The mother of invention has nothing to fear. Mr. Chermesh had a need to solve the problems dyslexia had presented throughout his life. As an entrepreneur with more than twenty years of experience in founding high tech companies, he was poised to do just that.
“When you go to work,” Mr. Chermesh explained, “nobody cares… you need to get the work done.” He continued to say that products like Microsoft Word can help some people with their writing but not people with real issues. His challenges with dyslexia would rear its head daily in the midst of professionals looking only at results.
Earlier in Mr. Chermesh’s career he worked at a networking company with a promising and prosperous gentlemen, Dr. Robert Iakobashvili, who remained his friend and would eventually become his partner. As a technological expert who had served as a CTO and Software Architect for several technologically leading companies such as Vocaltec and Marnetics, Dr. Iakobashvili, now CTO and co-founder of Ghotit, was the perfect person to help Mr. Chermesh find the answer he was looking for. Together they looked at what existed for spell checkers and why they didn’t work for people with Dyslexia.
There was a fundamental problem with the way popular products like Microsoft Word handled spell check. It assumes the person is a reasonably good speller just making occasional small mistakes. It can miss things like a correctly spelled word that is wrong for the context. Mr. Chermesh experienced this himself after a meeting with a prominent VP at a British Telecom company and it had dire consequences: They had a great meeting and Mr. Chermesh left feeling good, having really enjoyed his time with the VP. The next day he crafted an email to the VP to thank him and tell him how much he enjoyed the meeting. Word corrected the mistakes in his email. Unfortunately, it didn’t catch that Mr. Chermesh had typed, “I really enjoyed our mating.” A mistake that may have gotten chuckles in some circles but was poorly received by the VP and cost Mr. Chermesh a possibly productive professional relationship.
There was, however, a spell checker out there that worked very well and had an engine that could catch the contextual errors as well as standard spelling mistakes – Google. The search engine has access to an Internet full of real world examples of how a word is commonly used, which gives it the ability of offer up suggestions to the user based on contextual clues. This is the famous Google question, “Did you mean?”
Inspired by the possibilities the two friends and former colleges became partners and worked to create a spell checker that used advanced algorithms and considered context when suggesting words. Not only would it flag misspelled words like a traditional spell check but it would make suggestions based on the possibilities presented by the context regardless of whether it was a correctly spelled word. This was the beginning of what would become Ghotit, which handles grammar and spell check in a revolutionary way.
When I asked Mr. Chermesh what he experienced, as a person with dyslexia, when he began using Ghotit he answered with one word – freedom. Freedom to answer an email or write a document without fear or without having to rely on his wife for proofreading. Freedom to operate in the professional world in the way his friends and colleagues did.
GHOTIT IN ACTION
Ghotit is not sexy but it is efficient, effective and simple in its design. It’s a powerful one-screen command center design with one-click, easy-to-understand access to all its major functions. It can be used as a “clean” text editor on its own, or neatly pull content from another product like Word or Outlook, correct it and put it back with ease. Sound complicated? Not at all. With a tap of the F6 key you are off and correcting your Word document in Ghotit. A click of the green circle with the check mark and the corrected text drops back into Word.
Ghotit also has a powerful word prediction function that can be easily toggled on and off. I know, as a poor speller, that when I am so far off on the spelling of a word I can confuse a standard spell checker. (A problem I used to remedy by typing it into Google.) It is not only frustrating but can derail my thoughts while writing. Ghotit word prediction, however, will often throw up a correct prediction and have me on my way without breaking my train of thought.
So here is a brilliant and simple feature of the product that shows me they really were thinking about the needs of the user when designing it. Ghotit comes with a reader that reads the document aloud. As someone who struggles with proofing their own work, this is the perfect addition – a simple function that rounds out this deeply advanced product. I’ve been told throughout my life to just read my document aloud and I’ll catch the silly little typos I would otherwise miss. I do this, and it does help but, like with everything else, I can automatically read it aloud the way I intended to write it and not the way it is actually written. It’s a conative curse that not all people understand and which leaves me frustrated and never confident about my proofreading. I’ve found, however, that when listening to Ghotit read it back, my ear will be offended when I hear something I didn’t intend with almost 100% certainty.
It’s great to see an assistive technology that addresses the challenges faced by computer users with dyslexia and dysgraphia. Even better is for it to do it so well. The best is to have the technology so well developed that it is just scratching the surface of its potential benefit to society. It’s amazing how, when the right people look at something that is so common, like a spelling and grammar checker, through a different lens it can turn into something with an entirely new set of benefits and address never-before-answered needs.
The “box” says that Ghotit is good for people with dyslexia and dysgraphia. I say that if producing a clean piece of writing haunts you, it might be for you too. On the home page of the Ghotit website they have a space where you can paste your text and try the product. Do yourself a favor, if you struggle with error free writing like me, paste your next few emails in there before you send them. You’ll be glad you did. And, if you do have dyslexia or dysgraphia, run, don’t walk, to the Ghotit website and experience the freedom for yourself.