Automating MS Word

I will confess that I am a lazy person.  I really should say that I’m always looking for an easier or faster way to accomplish tasks.  When I have a repetitive task that may be complex, I eventually begin investigating ways to avoid the task.  Enter Word automation or Word Macros.

Working with students, either with special needs or non-special needs, they have identified many of the tasks that they might automate.  A few simple skills can go a long way to improving a students’ writing experience. Reducing the number of keystrokes or mouse clicks can simplify life.


A simple form of automating Word is the Autocorrect feature to replace frequently used words or phrases. To simplify the number of keystrokes ( and errors) needed to enter phrases, titles and long strings of repeated text, Autocorrect is a simple solution.

In earlier versions of Office, Autocorrect was fairly easy to access under the Classic Menu.  It was located on the Tools drop-down list.

Starting with the Ribbon, accessing Autocorrect has become a multi-click process.  First in Word 2016, click the File Tab on the Menu bar (or Press the ALT key then F)

The menu tab with lots of choices will appear.  Select Options at the bottom of the list or if you’re selecting using the keyboard, press T.

A dialog box will appear showing the Word Options.  Select Proofing.

Select Proofing and AutoCorrect Options will be at the top of the choices.

Select AutoCorrect Options in the Window and the AutoCorrect Dialog box will appear.

Now we simply use the Replace With fields to substitute one character string for another.

In this case, if I’m writing a long piece on folk singer/songwriters who had an impact in the 60’s and 70’s.  I writing about Henry John Deutschendorf Jr. (Leaving On A Jet Plane) and at some point will misspell his name.  So I will choose a few letters to type and have it replaced with his full name.  In this case, I’ll use hjd in the Replace field and Henry John Deutschendorf the With field.

The video below shows the entire sequence including how it works in Word.

One of the keys to using this is to choose a Replace string with characters that are not normally used.

If you plan to use AutoCorrect frequently, you might consider adding it as a button to the Ribbon.  That will be the next topic.

DSpeech – A Free Text to Speech Program

DSpeech from Dimio is a FREE Text to Speech (TTS) program for Windows.  It is one of two free programs I’ve found that can convert text to a digital audio file without having to upgrade to a paid option.

It utilizes the Speech Application Program Interface (SAPI) in Windows with the voices in the Operating System.  The voices you can access will vary by your version of Windows.  Additional voices can be added. There are several free voices which can be installed for use in the program.


The program does not need installation which means it does not need administrative rights.  It can also be made “portable,”

There are also  several simple methods to have multiple voices in the same text.  Both are demonstrated in the video below.  One is to go to the options on the menu bar, click Customize Voice in Quoted Text and complete the dialog box: checking the box for Use Different Box for Quoted Text and choose the voice.  Alternatively, the voice can be changed by using the tag #VOICE [Voice Name].  Using this option allows the use more than two voices.

Click here to go to Dimio’s website for the download

Disaster and Communication

With Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, there are thousands of people having to move into temporary shelters.

A number of these people will be unable to communicate with shelter staff because of a disability or language barrier.

For the deaf, oral interpreters will not be available and because of loss of phone lines and cell towers, the backup systems using translation services will probably fail as well.

A simple laptop or computer with a keyboard will do in a pinch, but a more dedicated solution such as an Ubiduo would be better.

CAVEAT: I have not used these.  The programs came from a variety of resources.

 For Translations Offline:

Google Translate allows downloading languages onto your device.

Bing Translator also allows downloading languages onto your device.

Amazon Kindle Fire Translator (offline)

Tourist language learn & speak (Android only)

Lonely Planet Offline Translator(iOS)

Portable Text and Speech Translator – QTranslate (Windows but does not require administrative rights).


Reading Level Gaps  – California Students with disabilities

Based on the English portion of the 2016 Smarter Balanced exam given in California, only 13% of students with a disability either met or exceeded grade standards for reading.

For those students without a disability, 57% of the females and 57% of the males met or exceeded grade standards for reading

The thrust of the data summaries is that male students of all ages and ethnicities score lower than comparable female students. Data for disabilities is also included.  The male/female gap is not as pronounced as it is in those without disabilities.

The summary data table (Excel Worksheet) can be found here:

Summary Data Tables

One Handed – 3D Printed Adaptor for Joy-Con Game Controller

Single Hand Nintendo Joy-Con adaptor

3D-Printing is quickly becoming the newest disruptor. #D printing is allowing for customization and on-demand production of an amazing scope of products.

One of the issues faced by gamers with limited mobility is the ability to work game controllers with one hand.  The article which follows shows how a simple adaptor for a Nintendo Joy-Con permitted the developer to play his favorite games one-handed.

The developer has produced two configurations of  the adaptor. The STL files which are used by 3D printers can be downloaded here.  The designs are licensed under a Creative Commons License.


Creating an MP3 file with Balaboka

BALABOKA – Text to Audio

Balaboka can convert to the digital text to audio with one simple click.

Several things to remember:

The audio file name will default to the Text file name unless you change it

The voice and settings used to read the file (Text to Speech) will be used for the conversion.

As the video below shows, you can change the voice.  You’re limited by the voices you have installed.  Windows by default comes with several voices.  The voices will vary by the version of Windows.

The ENTIRE file will be converted.  The larger the file, the longer the conversion will take.  This means you don’t want to convert War and Peace in one pass.  Break it into smaller chapters.

You can convert to other formats, but MP3 is probably still the most versatile format. There is a reason audio playback devices are referred to as MP3 players.


 Balaboka – The FREE Text to Speech Program.

Balaboka is a basic word processing program which includes, Text to Speech and Text to Audio.  All of its’ features are free.  Balaboka is Russian for “Chatterer” and the program lives up to its name.  Using the voices already on the computer, Balaboka can read the text aloud and highlight the words as they are read.  It is one of two programs that have a free text to audio option (The other is DSpeech).

Charge of the Light Brigade from Project Gutenberg

Balaboka is a Windows program which will run under most versions of Windows (From XP to Windows 10).  It can also be run from a USB Drive, making it portable. When Balaboka is run from a USB Drive, it does not need administrative privileges.




Financial Times has a voice

The Financial Times has added a feature to allow readers to listen to an article.  The feature uses an artificial voice and as to be expected the voice is British 😊

Screenshot of Financial Times Article showing Listen button
Listen Player for


They have also added an experimental feature making their articles pretty much mini-podcasts.  This is a start, for those with reading issues (or for UD – the time constrained).  At the moment, there is no tracking for those needing it. It is also only available to subscribers.

Now if only the Wall Street Journal would follow suit.

July 2017 Disability US Unemployment

July 2017


4.4% Unemployment No Disability

9.6% Disability Unemployment

29.8% Not in Labor Force – No Disability

79.2% Not in Labor Force – With Disability

13.7% Teenage Unemployment Rate


July 2016


4.9% = Unemployment No Disability

11.1% Disability Unemployment

29.8% Not in Labor Force – No Disability

79.6% Not in Labor Force – With Disability

16.3% Teenage Unemployment Rate


Tables A-1 and A-6 Bureau of Labor Statistics (Not Seasonally Adjusted)

15-20% Persons with Learning Disability

Up to 50% of the Prison Population has a Learning Disability

Free Tools to Help with Organization and Writing

Balaboka – Balaboka is “Chatter” in Russian. And that is so true.  In addition to being a simple word processor, it also can handle text-to-speech.  The voices it uses are dependent on the voices installed on your system. There are some free voices available, which can be downloaded and installed on your system.  It’s free but works only on Windows (all version).

It is also one of two text-to-speech programs I know about which have a free option to convert the text to an audio file.  There are a number of export formats available, including WAV, MP3, WMA, and OGG among others.

Lingoes –  Lingoes is a dictionary program which runs in the background.  By “hovering” over a word, pressing a key stroke(s), a popup window will show the pronunciation, the part of speech and the definition  A speaker icon is shown so you can hear the word spoken and have the definition read aloud.

XMind – XMind is a free open-source mind mapping program.  There are a number of templates, some for education and several for business.  You can view yourr topic in a mind map view, outline and in the free version – export to an RTF file for use in a word processor.

LibreOffice– LibreOffice is a free open-source office suite.  It contains a word processor (Write), a spreadsheet (Calc), a presentation program (Impress), a database program (Base), a drawing program (Draw) and an equation editor (Math)

Zotero – Zotero is a research tool which allows you capture information.  It allows you to capture and store your research information into a searchable database  You can collect, organize, cite and share your research sources.  Zotero captures the information needed for bibliography and citations.  It can handle MLA, APA and numerous other citation styles. There are add-ins to integrate Zotero with Microsoft Word and LibreOffice.

Bruces Unusual Typing Wizard – Bruces Unusual Typing Wizard is a simple program to teach touch typing.   With a number of practice lessons and skill test, the program teaches the QWERTY keyboard. There is also a small game to reinforce the lessons in a fun way.

Windows Speech Recognition (WSR) – Windows Speech Recognition (Speech to Text) is part of the Windows Operating System.  It has been available since Windows Vista.  It does require an external microphone (USB preferred) and a minimal amount of training.  You can control the entire computer using your voice with basic commands.  It obviously integrates with MS Word.  It is also helpful to have a knowledge of the keystroke commands.

But Wait, There’s More 😊

All of the programs can be installed on a PC with a minimal amount of resources.  Even better, with the exception of WSR, they can be installed on a portable device such as a USB Drive.