The following blog post was written by Erin Beneteau, a senior learning and development strategist for accessibility at Microsoft. Erin has worked in the field of assistive technology for over 15 years.
I remember watching the demonstrator use his mouse to whizz through letters that traveled and zoomed across the screen. With the software, the alphabet appeared to sail towards his cursor, rather than making him use his cursor to find letters. After watching for roughly five minutes, I had to look away. It was too hard to keep up with what was happening on the screen.
That was my introduction to Dasher, software David MacKay began developing seventeen years ago. Today, Dasher remains a truly innovative way of thinking about typing and accessibility, a word-prediction program unlike any other I’ve ever seen.
Essentially, letters are packed in a dense group on the right side of a screen. As you move your cursor towards the letter you want to type, letters self-correct and zoom towards your cursor, anticipating your choice. As you use Dasher, the software learns words you typically type and its predictions become more accurate.
I learned about Dasher because I was working with people who could not use a traditional keyboard. Instead, they needed alternative typing options, and on-screen keyboards were often proposed as solutions. But, these keyboards could be cumbersome and slow. Dasher was created to speed up typing with an on-screen keyboard.
I’ve been fortunate to see an expert Dasher typist at work. The expert’s typing speed far exceeded what is possible with a traditional on-screen keyboard that relies on word prediction. If you want to see a truly innovative approach to designing an on-screen keyboard, take a look at Dasher.