OK, so I’m going to sit here and write a bit to see how fast I can go with Dasher typing for me. The Leap Motion platform is actually an excellent assistive technology input method and once both the user and the software have come up to speed, the input is both fluid and functional. It’s quite easy to reach a pleasant cruising speed with some practice and I must say that the Dasher predictive engine performs very well indeed.

The main issue I have with using accessible assistive technology, or one of them, is that most optimise for the natural language usecase. Now, for natural language input, that really helps — I don’t think I’d be as fast composing this text if I wasn’t being actively guided by the text prediction in Dasher — but, as many others have said, trying to write anything not resembling that input method’s target language is an exercise doomed to failure.

The question remains: why is there no assistive platform that allows a programmer to be able to do their job, even if they have a physical disability? Surely that discriminates against people whose minds are surely just as capable as those who do not suffer from such impediments.

As both a programmer and a person who suffers a chronic hand injury, being unproductive during the periods that I cannot use a conventional keyboard or mouse without serious discomfort is a killer for the mind. When I came across a talk by Tavis Rudd on his experience with Dragon’s Naturally Speaking product, my immediate reaction was of awe at the speed he could manipulate code in a variety of languages. That was followed a serious consideration of the necessity of the deliberate contruction of his “vocal” programing language.

I find it strange that the only way to enter a lingual construct of an entirely constructed language is with another entirely constructed pseudo-language. That feels wrong.

Admittedly, I have not yet tried Dasher’s non-English entry yet, but my expectations are low. I’ve tried to code with speech, handwriting and onscreenkeyboards, and have been wholly disappointed by all of them. With any luck, the bar will have been raised.

my $string="Hello, world.";
print $string;

Okay, so having just spent some time experimenting with typing Perl with the aid of Dasher’s prediction model for it, I will say that the experience surpasses all my previous assistive programming experiences. While, clearly, Dasher’s prediction is optimised for natural language input, the attempt at providing out of the box support for a real-life programming language is not to be sneezed at. It beats it’s competition soundly in that regard.

Okay, for kicks and giggles, I have set the Dasher input to the maximum possible speed, and the side-effects are worrying: I am now shaking and twitchy, and currently quite glad that I had the foresight to switch to my graphics tablet. I don’t think I could keep this up on anything else.

I do quite enjoy the experience of the Dasher input method. It’s both fun and intense to use and the brain power required to get stuff written is a pleasant exercise that I must say I do enjoy.