What is Dasher
I wrote briefly about Dasher in this article over on Inventability. I only touched upon what it was and where you could get it from, so I thought it might be useful to expand a bit here because it’s really really worth knowing about if you can’t use a keyboard.
The official Dasher website tells us that it is an alternative text entry application, and that is exactly right. There is nothing else quite like Dasher four writing text quickly if you can’t use your computer image additional sense, that is if you are quadriplegic, have no arms or for some other reason can’t use keyboard then you can use Dasher to quickly and easily write text and at a fairly decent speed.
Dasher has been around for years now, when I started to lose the ability to use my hands this was the only choice I could find for inputting text. Speech to text software on the Mac and computers in general wasn’t very good at the time. Now of course, I have DragonDictate for Mac so I used Dasher a lot less than I used to but it’s still incredibly useful. If you don’t have speech, or if you’re in public or at work or school or some other place you need to be quiet, then it’s perfect.
Where Can I Get it?
At the time of writing I couldn’t access the normal Dasher website (which is where I downloaded my Mac version) so unfortunately I can’t link you to a Mac download link. However it’s actively maintained over on its Github repository where you can download Windows versions and the source code so that you can build it yourself on Linux and other platforms. This is the Releases page where you will find everything you need.
Downloading and installing Windows or Linux software is outside the scope of this article, but if you know how to download and install software at all you’ll be fine.
How Do I Use It?
After I downloaded and installed the Mac version of the software I was able to use my head tracker and switch to immediately start writing. All I needed to do was open Dasher and open a TextEdit document. After a frustrating few minutes (it’s pretty weird at first but then somehow flips into instinctive) I was up to about 20 words per minute, and now I can easily hit 70 words per minute.
It doesn’t matter what pointing device and/or switch you use with Dasher as long as you can reliably move the cursor slightly up, down, left and right and also issue a left click to start and stop Dasher then you’re fine. It works with eyegaze tech too (and can be hooked up to TTS speech production), so it can be used by eye movement only.
I use a TrackerPro which plugs into the back of my computer and pretends to be a mouse. It follows a reflective dot on my glasses and then translate those movements into cursor movements, so if I look at the top left-hand corner of the screen and that’s where the cursor will move to. To stop and start – I have a Buddy Button under my right index finger, one click to start and another click to stop the motion.
It’s a little difficult to explain in words how you use Dasher. The only reasonable analogy I could come up with is that you “drive through” the letters as they appear on screen to make words, sentences, paragraphs and then Heartbreaking Works of Staggering Genius. I suppose is the easiest thing to do would be for me to show you; here’s a video of me using Dasher:
Hello, this is Dasher. It’s a completely different way of writing. I’m writing this with very small head movements. My TrackerPro is picking up the head movements by tracking a reflective dot stuck on my glasses. I can even write lying down in bed by sticking a dot on my nose. :-)
But you don’t need a camera tracker. You can connect anything to Dasher. You could use a Wii, or a steering wheel, or a dance mat, or a smartphone. As long as you can control the cursor you can write with Dasher. I can write at 70 words per minute, after a lot of practice.
I normally use voice dictation software, but with Dasher I can have private conversations. It also means I can write in noisy rooms, like an office or classroom full of other people.
Dasher Needs You (Apple Devs)
As mentioned earlier there are actively maintained Windows and Linux versions of the software but the moment the development for macOS and iOS has stalled, this is where you, the Apple developers come in. It only takes a couple of developers, heck it only takes one developer with a little spare time and the will to help and there could be an updated version of Dasher for those of us who rely on Mac computers. Yes, developing versions for the poor benighted heathens who have to use Windows is important but I think that an up-to-date version for the Mac would be lovely. :P
That said, I’m using the latest version of macOS (Sierra) and I installed Dasher from a DMG file I downloaded years ago and it still works. To be honest, other than the slightly clunky looking interface it still works brilliantly. If I find a reliable download link, or work out a way of hosting it myself, I will update this post.
Who Needs to Know About Dasher?
EVERYBODY! This little application doesn’t get anywhere near as much love as it should!
- Individuals with profound disabilities
- ANY people (commuters, nursing mothers, personal assistants) who write longform on their phones
- Occupational Therapists
- Access to Work advisors
- SEN inclusion officers in schools and colleges
- Budget holders
- Assistive Technology workers
- Code Schools
- App Makers
Because Dasher is Open Source and you can use the code to make your own app for free. Give it a go!
Anyway, if you get stuck or if any of the people in this post want to talk to me just drop me a line and I’ll be happy to help in any way I can. You can either email me or hit me up on twitter.