Assistive technology: physical impairments

The varied assistive technologies for people with physical impairments ranges from simple devices for people who can't use a mouse to complex systems integrating multiple technologies.

Alternative keyboards and mice

A standard keyboard and mouse configuration is not suitable for everyone and there are plenty of alternatives available to suit users varying needs and abilities, as follows:

  • Keyboards with lowercase keys.
  • Keyboards with large keys.
  • Keyboards with fewer and larger keys than a standard keyboard.
  • Keyboards with fewer but multifunctional keys, which are used with companion software.
  • Large print keyboards with high contrast colors.
  • Large print adhesive keyboard stickers in high contrast colors.
  • Foot mouse, wherein the mouse is operated by the users' feet rather than their hands.

Alternative input devices

Alternative input devices replicate the functionality of a keyboard and mouse. A wide range of devices are available to meet varying user requirements.

Electronic pointing devices

Electronic pointing devices provide a way for people to control the cursor on-screen without having to use their hands. There are a wide range of devices that use different techniques and technologies for users to control their computers, such as:

  • Ultrasound.
  • Infrared beams.
  • Eye movement tracking.
  • Nerve signals.
  • Brain waves.

Switch access

Switch access refers to the range of switches that respond to specific actions used to activate them, such as sip-and-puff, pushing, pulling, pressing, blinking or squeezing, as well as the software that is used to facilitate these activations and, in some instances, enhance them. Switches can be used to access a range of computing functionality without the need for a keyboard or mouse. Many people will use one or more switches, depending on their abilities.

Wands and sticks

There are different types of wands and sticks, some are worn on the head, held in the mouth or strapped to the chin. They are all designed to enable people to press keys on a keyboard.

Joysticks

Joysticks are used to replicate the functionality of a mouse and people primarily use their hands, feet or chins to control the cursor on-screen.

Trackballs

Trackballs are used to replicate the functionality of a mouse. They have a movable ball contained in a flat base and are manipulated by hand to move the cursor on-screen.

Touch screens

Touch screens allow people to select or activate the functions of their computer through touch, rather than by using a mouse or keyboard.

The advent of the iPad and other tablet devices in mainstream technology can be used instead of AT specific touch screens. However, AT specific touch screens differ in that they are either built into or added onto the computer monitor and are not used as standalone devices.

On-screen keyboards

On-screen keyboards display an image of a keyboard on-screen, allowing people to access it using a standard mouse or a variety of electronic pointing devices.

Explore assistive technologies by impairment

Assistive technology: visual impairments

From screenreaders to alternative keyboards, discover the types of assistive technology available for people with a visual impairment.

Assistive technology: hearing impairments

From assistive listening devices to closed captioning, discover the types of assistive technology available for people with a hearing impairment.