By Karin Kloosterman
Even with modern technology, online translation programs, and spell-checkers, dyslexics have a hard time getting around online. Especially today since more and more business communication is being done by email, messaging and twitters.
A dyslexic himself, Ofer Chermesh decided that he’d made enough mistakes in writing letters to business colleagues in emails. A deal breaker was one he’d written while working for the Israeli telecommunications company Comverse. Hoping to do business with British Telecom, Chermesh wrote an “enticing” email to his prospective business partner, a man, something along the lines of “looking forward to mating with you.”
It didn’t go over very well. The business connection was never made, and unfortunately these kinds of common mistakes are “something that happens quite often to a dyslexic,” Chermesh tells ISRAEL21c.
For damage control Chermesh started thinking of a program that could help him find the right words he needed, even when the original spelling of how he perceived the word to look was unrecognizable by a spellchecker. He partnered with a technology graduate from the Weizmann Institute in Israel, and they created Ghotit.
Free to schools and educational institutions, and free if used online, those who’d like Ghotit to integrate with their Word and Microsoft applications can download the application for $10 a month. About 30 schools from the Michigan region to Los Angeles are plugged into Ghotit and are very happy with the results, Chermesh says.
“Schools that are working with it right now are using it as an assistant for students with disabilities,” says Chermish, who has schools in Germany and the UK plugged into the program too. Schools, he says, can have as many accounts as they want, for free.
Before you get fancy with words
Although there are two other Israeli companies working in the sphere: building tools for people with English as a second language, and dyslexia — WhiteSmoke and Ginger — Ghotit is much more basic, attacking the root of the dyslexic’s problem, before the stage when a person can think about getting creative with their writing, says Chermish.
He used it to write ISRAEL21c an email, showing the shocking before and after improvements Ghotit had accomplished. But he asked it not be published.
“For me as a dyslexic WhiteSmoke doesn’t really help because I am not at that stage yet,” he says.
Iris Chermesh, his wife, talks about living with a dyslexic and the associated problems: “The benefits of regular spellcheckers are limited for people with dyslexia. Your spelling has to be very, very close in order to get corrected spelling. Ofer even went and purchased some leading and quite expensive writing assistant tools to try and help him.
“But no matter how much time he invested, the end result was a bunch of misspelled and misused words all jumbled together in a single sentence. Actually, Ofer wrote very concise sentences. He became an expert describing things using the minimum number of written words,” she tells ISRAEL21c.
Self-funded by the entrepreneurs
Working as an enterprise with no investment, you won’t see all the high-tech bells and whistles one might expect on Ghotit. But it’s this simplicity, and ease of use, that might give dyslexics some peace of mind. “We are doing everything we can at low budget. We have quite a few people connected to educational institutes in the US pointing users to Ghotit,” says Chermish. “It’s improved my quality of life. I know the problem of being a dyslexic.”
Prior to Ghotit, Chermesh would rely on a set of short cuts to aid him in avoiding tricky words. “I would limit my vocabulary and write out words that I would feel comfortable spelling.” If he had no idea how the word looked on paper, he would go so far as to look for a translation from his native Hebrew to English, often with poor results.
Highlighting the errors, Ghotit relies on human intervention to correct the error. It won’t do it automatically for you, but that’s important for people who have dyslexia or who are struggling with English as a second language, says Chermesh.
Helping the world see you clearly
The algorithm, or engine that Ghotit runs on is being improved and updated all the time, good news for the struggling dyslexic writer. It looks at the basics – of spelling and grammar, and helps you decide the best choice.
In writing, Chermish says that “you need to be perfect. This is how the world sees you. You don’t really speak to the person, you send emails and if that can’t reflect what you are doing you have a real problem.”
Ghotit was founded in 2007, is based in Netanya, Israel, and currently employs three. The company has hired outsourcing experts for developing plugins, and expect to pay them based on a revenue sharing model. Ghotit hopes to have sales by the end of this month.
“We are saying that we want people to be able to correct their text correctly. They need to be able to correct correctly and to be certain that what they are correcting is correct,” says Chermesh, spoken like someone who has an interesting, if not complicated relationship to the written word.
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