Both Mac and Windows operating systems come pre-packaged with a number of accessibility programs such as voice dictation. These can be good alternatives to Kurzweil or Dragon, and give students basic (and free!) starter resources that they can access at home.

Below are some of the programs we have looked at for both Mac OS and Windows.


Speech Recognition

Speech Recognition is the speech-to-text software that comes pre-installed on all Windows machines running Windows Vista and later. 

To access Speech Recognition, go to Start -> All Programs -> Accessories -> Ease of Access -> Windows Speech Recognition.  However, you can set Speech Recognition to run at start up by right clicking the speech recognition window -> Options -> Run at startup, as shown below:

Speech Recognition screenshot

Windows speech recognition is a free alternative speech-to-text software that we recommend for people who do not have Dragon available on their personal computers. Although it is a bit clunkier than Dragon, it provides many of the same features.


Narrator is Windows’s built-in screen reader. To access Windows Narrator, go to Start -> All Programs -> Accessories -> Ease of Access -> Narrator.

We do not recommend using Narrator as a Kurzweill substitute, as it has very limited capabilities and can be troublesome to use. 

Mac OS


Dictation is the speech-to-text software that comes pre-installed on all Mac machines running OS X Mountain Lion or later. In particular, machines running OS X Mavericks or later have significantly improved Dictation.

To access Dictation, simply press the “fn” key twice in a row and you will get the following prompt:

Dictation screenshot

We recommend that you enable “Enhanced Dictation.” For more information, please see Apple’s Dictation support page.

Although Dictation is not as comprehensive of a program as Dragon NaturallySpeaking, it is an adequate, free alternative that can be run on your own computer. 


VoiceOver is Apple’s built-in screen reader that has been included on all Mac computers since OS X 10.4 (Tiger). To access VoiceOver, press “command” + “f5”. To change any of VoiceOver’s settings, such as the dictation voice, go to Applications -> Utilities -> VoiceOver Utility.

Apple has a comprehensive VoiceOver getting started guide.

We recommend using Kurzweil over VoiceOver whenever possible, as VoiceOver has very limited capabilities.

Microsoft Word Notebook View

The Mac version of Microsoft Word includes a handy note-taking view format that allows for audio recording capabilities. By switching to Notebook View, users can click each line and playback the audio that was captured while those lines were being typed out. Under the View menu, select “Notebook Layout.” The only disadvantage to this view is that a number of Word’s capabilities (such as line formatting) are not enabled in this mode. You also have to stay in Notebook View to listen to your notes. However, we still recommend Notebook View for simple note-taking if listening to recorded audio that is linked to your typed notes is something that is desired.