Technology Today, November/December 1997

Voice-recognition software and a competitive spirit help Dennis Terning succeed


Limited to the confines of his office and in need of a truck scale for the family business, Dennis Terning perused the Internet.

After some searching, he found a database into which he plugged the requested information. It was then forwarded to more than 40 companies dealing in truck scales.

The same day he heard from seven companies via either fax or e-mail. He bought his scale from a Florida firm.

This is the power of the Internet; also the power of voice-recognition software.

Terning is a quadriplegic.

He broke his neck between the fourth and fifth vertebrae in a car-racing accident in June 1993. Along with being a quadriplegic, Terning was challenged with maintaining the family farm and seed company, which he operates with his brother, Dean.

Purchasing the right computer and software to meet his needs was arduous. Prior to his accident, he had little knowledge of, or much interest in, computers. Thus he had no clue as to what he did or didn't need.

Talking to salesmen, Terning said, was educational but also frustrating. Depending on who you were talking to, opinions varied. Terning said Rural Rehabilitation Technologies of St. Peter helped him get in touch with the right people. Rural Rehab also assisted in getting federal and state funding to purchase the equipment.

It was a rather long process. Government employees visited Terning on more than one occasion to procure what information they needed.

"They probably blew more money on me than what I actually got out of the process," quipped Terning. "It took over a year, but one good thing I got out of it was I was able to get better equipment for the same amount of money than if they had written me a check on the first meeting."

A Pentium 166 processor with 32 megabytes of RAM, a 17-inch monitor, and a Kensington expert mouse now don his office desk. The voice-activated system, DragonDictate, operates his software.

"I really didn't try different software. I felt comfortable using DragonDictate and there's local support," Terning said. Speech Recognition Technologies of Eden Prairie handles distribution for Dragon Systems.

He has the option of using the dictate mode or the command mode. The command mode is slower but does everything if you are unable to use a mouse.

Terning has limited motor skills in his right arm which enables him to use a mouse. He explained that about seven months after his accident, he regained use of his rotator cuff and bicep muscles.

Terning uses the discrete speech software version, which requires a pause between words as he speaks. Also on the market are programs that use continuous speech such as Dragon Systems' Naturally Speaking or IBM's ViaVoice. Continuous speech systems need a larger processor, so they are harder on the pocketbook, he said.

His costs were about $1,080 for the software and headset and another additional $600 for the hardware and training.

Terning became computer-functional in May 1996. Prior to that, running the business was tedious, to say the least.

Terning was already familiar with the office makings. Before the accident, he was more involved in the management-end of the business than Dean, who preferred the field to the office. But, the lack of mobility made operating a business a new ball game.

"To begin with, I found myself inefficient and a real burden to our secretaries," said Terning.

Not accustomed to dictating, he would be up late at night formulating a letter in his head that he had to dictate the next day.

Anything he needed from a file drawer, his secretaries needed to retrieve it for him. And that happened often.

The computer has given Terning a new found independence.

He can write a letter, print it or fax it without any assistance. Documents he may need at later time are scanned and stored in his computer for retrieval. He uses the Internet to look up phone numbers.

Terning has found a friend in the Internet. Aside from the business aspect, he chats with others via Web sites geared for those with disabilities. He peruses the StarTribune now without someone turning pages for him.

A Web site was also designed for Terning Seeds,


"The Internet gives me a competitive edge just as much as an able-bodied person. Without it, that wouldn't be the case," explained Terning.

It's the competition that Terning enjoys. As a race car driver, he was national champion in his class in 1992. He also had a pilot's license.

"I'm totally aware that my accident changed life for everyone around me. I didn't want to be the bearer of such news for my parents."

"But it's being a risk taker, and the effort and drive that I put into racing on which I rely to get me through life after my accident," said Terning.

He is still involved in racing, as he and his ex-wife operate a racetrack in Montivideo at the Chippewa County Fairgrounds.

Terning said, "I've learned three things from my accident: to be willing to accept change, to be a good problem solver, and to be willing to accept that from this point on I'll have to rely on someone the rest of my life."

Terning employs a full-time health care aide. "It's very important to be a people person, otherwise I would have tremendous worker turnover," he quipped.

Equipped with a computer, two-way radio, speaker phone and an electronic Rolodex, the Terning office becomes command central.

"Technology is a real friend of mine," Terning said. "Lack of mobility has changed my job scope, but with a computer, I'm productive and a team player. The bottom line is I look forward to getting up every morning."

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