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Assistive Technology for Children with Physical Disabilities: Keyboard & Mouse

written by: Stephanie Torreno • edited by: Sarah Malburg • updated: 7/12/2012

Personal computers have dramatically changed the way students learn and complete assignments. The average computer, however, may not be accessible to children with physical limitations. Learn how assistive technology for children with disabilities can give them access to personal computers.

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    Keyboard Access

    Many adaptations or alternatives exist in assistive technology for disabled students who have typing challenges. Keyguards, for example, are hard plastic covers with holes for each key. Using a keyguard, children with unsteady fingers can avoid striking unwanted keys. Keyguards increase accuracy, maintain correct placement of hand, and help avoid accidental pressing of keys. They must match the specific keyboard layout and often attach to the keyboard with Velcro.

    Alternative keyboards meet specific needs of individual children. An adjustable keyboard has three sections that can be positioned close together or further apart, rotated, and tilted to many angles. A miniature keyboard has keys spaced close together to allow children with limited range of motion access all keys. Programmable keyboards, additionally, can be programmed so that letters, numbers, words, or phrases can be entered by pressing custom keys.

    For students with more severe disabilities, a pointing or typing aid can be used to press keys on the keyboard. Usually a wand or a stick, the pointer or typing aid can be worn on the head, strapped to the chin, or held in the mouth or hand. This aid allows use of a standard or alternative keyboard and can be used with a keyguard. Other wands or sticks are designed for use with a splint on the hand or arm.

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    Mouse Alternatives

    Children who have the inability to control movements often have difficulties positioning the mouse cursor. Students may also have the inability to double-click within the time necessary, or click and drag. There are several options for children with disabilities to control the mouse cursor.

    A common alternative to the mouse is a trackball. Best described as a mouse upside down with the ball exposed, trackballs remain stationary so that only movement of the ball moves the cursor. Buttons on the trackball can perform single click, double-click, and drag-lock functions. The size of ball on the trackball varies from as large as a cue ball to as small as a marble.

    A joystick is another input device that can control the cursor. Joysticks offer three types of control: digital, glide, and direct.

    • Digital control allows movement in a limited number of directions.
    • Glide and direct control allow movements in all directions.
    • Direct-control joysticks have the added ability of responding to the distance and speed with which the user moves the stick.

    Joysticks have the benefit of activating the computer with different parts of the body, such as the head or chin, without the use of hands. Different joysticks require more force than others. In addition, some joysticks have up to three programmable control buttons that perform various functions. Some, however, only work with software written specifically for use with them.

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    Computer use can increase independence and allow children to learn at their maximum potential. Numerous options are available to allow students with varying abilities to participate in using the computer.