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Keyboards

Since the evolution of the typewriter in 1867, the traditional keyboard with its QWERTY layout has been around for almost 150 years. In fact, the chances are, if you buy a new computer it will come with a QWERTY keyboard as standard.

However, for many people, the 'standard' keyboard can be challenging to use, for some, impossible.

Difficulties using a standard keyboard include;

  • Identifying and pressing the correct key(s).
  • Pressing a key for the correct amount of time (avoiding key repetition).
  • Differentiating between lowercase and uppercase keys.
  • Understanding the functions of keys such as Shift, Alt, Control and Function Keys, e.g. F3, F4, F5 etc.
  • Constantly looking between the keyboard and computer screen (particularly for new users).
  • Positioning the keyboard, particularly if it is a large traditional style with number pad.

Other factors to consider

  • Is the keyboard too big?
  • Is the keyboard too small?
  • Is the keyboard wrongly positioned, too high, too low?
  • Is there an alternative, e.g. speech recognition?
 

Overcoming difficulties using a keyboard

There are many alternatives to the 'standard' keyboard which can make a big difference. However, before trying out an alternative keyboard consider the following;

  • Adjusting the position and height of the keyboard – is it better flat or raised?
  • Adjusting the built-in keyboard accessibility settings for Windows and Macs:
    • Stickykeys – for one finger to operate the ‘Alt’, ‘Shift’ and ‘Control’ keys.
    • Filterkeys – alter the length of time a key needs to be held down before it appears on the screen.
 

Keyboard alternatives

Alternative keyboards can help to meet a variety of individual needs.

  • Some keyboards are designed to be used with a keyguard (to help with motor difficulties);
  • smaller keyboards with smaller sized keys can be more appropriate for younger children;
  • ergonomic keyboards can be split and rearranged to suit different hand positions.
 

Alternative keyboards:

  • On-screen keyboards - a virtual keyboard as opposed to a physical keyboard.
    • On-screen keyboards resized and placed on the desktop screen improve access.
    • On-screen keyboards can be used with a pointing device such as a mouse or joystick.
    • Some on-screen keyboards feature word prediction, i.e. the Windows On-Screen Keyboard.
  • Smaller or compact keyboards - many have Bluetooth and don’t require a cable.
    • Smaller keyboards require less physical strength and can aid those with muscular weakness and/or poor motor control/hypermobility.
    • Smaller keyboards take up less desk space, therefore offering greater flexibility for positioning, i.e. less stretching required.
    • Compact keyboards have smaller keys requiring less pressure and finger movement when pressing keys.
  • Keyboards stickers - available in lowercase and/or high contrast colours.
    • Keyboard stickers are less expensive than buying a large keyboard.
    • Keyboard stickers are available in lower and uppercase letters.
  • Eye-Gaze - control the computer with your eyes.

  • Keyboards with larger keys
    • Bigger keys can help young or new users (and those with a visual impairment) to locate the keys.
  • Keyboards for early learners - simplified layout.
    • Keyboards with a simpler layout can be used to introduce young and new pupils.
  • Ergonomic keyboards - e.g. an adjustable/split keyboard.
    • Some keyboards have an integrated mouse and can help those with a limited reach.
    • Ergonomic keyboards can help alleviate repetitive strain injury (RSI).
  • One-handed keyboards
    • Learning to use a one-handed keyboard Learning to use a one-handed keyboard (e.g. Maltron, Bat, CyKey) can take weeks of dedicated practice but for those who persist, it is possible to develop fast typing speeds.  
    • Learn to type single-handed.
  • Specialist keyboards such as Helpikeys
    • A programmable membrane keyboard that uses 'overlay sheets' with different layouts, making it a very flexible and personalised keyboard.
 

Tablet devices and Keyboards

Most tablet devices such as iPads and Androids have a built-in on-screen keyboard which can be accessed by tapping the screen.

Although both iPads and Android devices include word prediction as part of the on-screen keyboard (QuickType for the iPad) word prediction apps are also available to download.

Word prediction apps:

See the Writing Support webpage for more details on:

  • keyboards.
  • word prediction.
  • and writing support.

For long extended writing such as essays, the on-screen keyboard (even with word prediction) can be slow and cumbersome. As most tablets are Bluetooth enabled external keyboards (including alternative keyboards) can be used to aid typing.

Examples of Bluetooth Keyboards:

 

Keyguards

A keyguard is a metal or plastic cover with holes which is designed to fit over and work with specific keyboards. When a keyguard is fitted over a keyboard the holes are positioned in a way that prevents the user from pressing two keys simultaneously.

Benefits of using a keyguard:

  • You can rest your hands and wrists on a keyguard without pressing any of the keys, thereby reducing errors.
  • Keyguards can help with poor, fine motor control such as Cerebral Palsy.
  • Keyguards can be removed and then replaced when required.
 

Keyboard positioning

The position of the keyboard can make all the difference;

  • Improve wrist/hand/arm positioning.
  • Improve head positioning and hand-eye coordination.
  • Improve comfort, particularly for longer extended writing.
  • Improve accessibility for those with motor difficulties.

Keyboard mounts, swivel arms and clamps

Using an appropriate mount or stand, keyboards can be positioned to a wheelchair and/or a desk thereby offering increased accessibility. Mounting stands or arm should incorporate options to tilt and/or raise the keyboard to suit different needs.

An arm-rest or wrist pad, which is securely clamped to a desk, can also be used to support the weight of a weak wrist and arm, sometimes as a result of repetitive strain injury (RSI).

Always seek advice from an Occupation Therapist first!

 

Keyboard positioning accessories

 
  • Keyboard desktop mounts/risers, i.e. the Kensington Riser - particularly useful for laptops.
  • Dycem mats and/or Velcro to prevent the keyboard from slipping.
  • Keyboard trays so the keyboard can be placed on the lap.

Providing additional keyboard support

Keyboard familiarity

Getting to know where all the keys are on the keyboard (touch typing) can help to increase typing speed, improve accuracy and confidence.

Touch typing programs include:

Word Prediction

If you the pupil has tried some of the above suggestions and is still struggling type, consider using Word prediction.

Word prediction software predicts words in context as you write (after the first or second keypress). Word prediction aids spelling accuracy and can increase typing speed.

 

'Using the iPad to Support Learners with Physical Difficulties' Infograph

This guide highlights the range of built-in features and accessories that can support learners with a physical difficulty to make the most of using an iPad in school.

This poster can be downloaded from the 'Posters and Leaflets' section of the website.