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I've had CFS for a little over a year now, and it's certainly transformed my life! Before I became ill I was working towards a PhD in chemistry at an American university and enjoying a full and active life. These days I'm back in New Zealand spending most of my life flat on my back learning to live with poor concentration, fragile emotions, light and sound sensitivity and flu sypmtoms, along with the actual physical weakness. As I've got used to my condition I've been able to identify various aids that have greatly increased my capacity. The most obvious of these are the mobility aids provided by my OT, but another that I discovered much later is a free computer program called "Dasher". This is a program that has been developed by researchers at Cambridge University to enable people with limited strength or mobility in their hands to 'type' using only small, gentle movements of the computer's mouse. This has been fantasticfor me as I'm too weak to sit up for very long and my hands are often so weak that typing is out of the question, but without being able to write email it's been hard for me to keep in touch with friends overseas. Dasher has transformed this situation.

The program can be downloaded here, where you can also find instructions on how to use the program, as well as different versions of the program for use on different computer systems and versions that allow you to type in several European languages and even Japanese! The essence of all these different versions, however, is the same. You are initially presented with a screen featuring the letters of the alphabet down the right hand side and a cursor that you move around with the mouse. Suppose you want to write the word `hello'. First you click the mouse button to start the program running, then you move the mouse towards the 'h' box. As you approach it the box expands and moves towards the left of the screen. You can now see that the right hand side of the 'h' box itself contains the alphabet. Moving to the 'e' within the 'h' box, then the 'l' within the 'e' box etc. causes the word 'hello' to appear in a text window at the top of the screen. With very little practice you can learn to type at a reasonable speed, whilst other features of the program that I haven't discussed here allow you to use punctuation, numbers and capital letters. And if you want to get fancy you can transfer your completed text to a regular word processor in order to use interesting fonts and formating.

One aspect of the program that I particularly like is the way in which it 'learns' from what I've already written. For example, I generally sign off my personal emails with '-- Heather :-)'. After I had done this a few times Dasher learnt that this was a letter combination that I used frequently and now whenever I type '--' it expands and lines up the letters for 'Heather :-)' and contracts the letters of the alphabet on either side of them so that I can write another word if I want to but if, as Dasher expects, I want to type 'Heather :-)' then I can do that very easily. This feature greatly increases the typing speed achievable with this program. Dasher comes primed with a familiarity with many common words and then constantly learns more words from the vocabulary you actually use.

I have found Dasher to be a very useful tool to help me function more normally and I hope that it helps many of you, too.