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Using a Mouse More Effectively for a Pupil with Motor Difficulties

by Craig Mill

on Fri Dec 09, 2016

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This week I answered two phone queries from different people about pupils who are having difficulties using a standard mouse. Both pupils are doing media related subjects which require intensive use of the mouse, particularly navigating the mouse, single and double clicking, holding and dragging items etc. 

Hand on mouseI recently completed the new section on the CALL website: alternatives to a standard mouse, so some of what I’d written was still fresh in my mind, and I was able to offer some practical advice over the phone. 

It is difficult to make a recommendation about an alternative mouse, particularly when you haven’t observed first-hand, the kind of difficulties a pupil is experiencing. Also, it can be too easy, misleading and potentially expensive to recommend an alternative mouse, e.g. ‘have your tried this trackball, or this joystick’ without proper consultation. 

After reflecting on the phone calls (and after a bit of experimenting with a couple of programs) I realised that recommending a specific alternative mouse should be way down the list of options. 



So I devised myself a ‘mouse’ checklist, an aide–mémoire for future queries, a framework for matching specific tasks, environments, and tools that revolve around the pupil, based on the SETT approach – which I thought I would share with you. 


Some useful tips to get started

If a pupil is having difficulties navigating and targeting items on the desktop consider the following:

Try minimising the amount of mouse movement across the screen:

Change the Display Settings

Change the display settings to a lower resolution: Start > Settings > Display. A higher screen resolution (which essentially increases the available space of the Desktop and consequently decreases the size of shortcuts, icons etc) requires the user to make longer mouse movements to travel between different items. Adjusting the display settings to a lower resolution will shorten the travel distance and increase the size of icons and menus, e.g. in Microsoft Word making them easier to identify and target.

Increase the size of the mouse pointer

Mouse settings in windowsIncrease the size of the mouse pointer, i.e. use a large pointer as this also minimises travel/movement across the screen making it easier to target and activate items. Larger mouse pointers are available in Windows – Ease of Access > Mouse > Pointer Size, but they are limited. 

Consider using the built-in Mouse options - Control Panel > Mouse. Sometimes making a few simple adjustments to the way the mouse operates can make all the difference, for example:

  • Slowing down the mouse speed to help coordination.
  • Slowing down the double click makes clicking easier for people with motor difficulties.
  • Making the mouse left handed.
  • Making the mouse pointer larger to make it easier to see.
  • Display pointer trails to help track the mouse pointer.
  • Show the location of the pointer using the Ctrl Key to help find the cursor.
  • Enable MouseKeys - control the mouse using the keyboard's number pad

Try using a larger mouse pointer

Larger Mouse Pointers are available from 
The FX Assistive Software site also has a range of free downloadable enlarged pointers (which run portable – no installation, e.g. from a USB stick):

  • Sonar Mouse Pointer/Ring
  • Bigger Cursors and Chunky Cursors 
  • EnorMouse (might be a bit too big though)

Try increasing the size of icons on the Desktop

Increase the size of icons on the Desktop – hold the Ctrl key on the keyboard and simultaneously rotate the scroll button backwards and forwards on the mouse to increase and decrease the size of the icons.  

Alternatively, use the Magnification settings in Ease of Access to increase the overall appearance of Windows. 

Clicking and dragging

If a pupil is having difficulties ‘clicking’ mouse buttons, explore ‘automated’ clicking software. This allows the pupil to hover the mouse pointer over an icon or menu item and the software will automatically click – including single clicks, double clicks, drag-lock etc. 

Examples include:

If the pupil is struggling to use a standard mouse, despite trying the above, the next stage should be to consider using an alternative mouse (in combination with the above suggestions).

Comparing trackballs and joysticks 

I tested the following trackballs / joysticks (in the CALL Equipment loan bank) with a variety of programs, including Microsoft Paint, MovieMaker, and Audacity – popular media Windows programs that require extensive multiple clicking, drag lock, dragging, releasing etc. I made the suggested changes to my screen resolution and used the Large White Mouse Pointer from the Ace Centre.

Penny + Giles Roller

The Penny+Giles Roller has a built-in keyguard making it easier to place fingers into the hole and click for pupils with poor motor skills. It also has a Drag Lock function – easy to release and lock. However, the nature of the large red  ball requires excessive ‘rolling’ to move the pointer across the screen. 

KidTrack Trackball

Large blue and red buttons for clicking. It also has a curved hand rest making it comfortable to use for long periods of time.

Kitrack trackballThe KidTrack has a smaller roller ball allowing the mouse to move smoothly across the screen (and slightly quicker) and surprisingly requires less effort to get from A to B. 

I found it easier to move between and target icons/menu items than the Penny+Giles. The Drag Lock function also works well. 

Traxsys Joystick 

Traxsys joystick Similar in design to the Penny+Giles Roller but with a joystick. The joystick has a tendency to move very quickly – this could be problematic for a pupil with fine motor difficulties who finds targeting difficult. 

However, if a pupil is a powered wheelchair and controls his/her wheelchair via the joystick, the Traxsys (or another joystick) could be an option – although some adjustments to the mouse speed should be made within Windows, i.e. to decrease the speed of the mouse movement. The Traxsys also has a Drag Lock button. 

Penny + Giles Joystick 

Penny Giles joystick

Comparable in design to the Penny+Giles Roller but with a joystick. The joystick also has ‘variable speed rates’ which might be useful as wells as ‘horizontal’ and ‘vertical’ lock to help with motor control. 


The Cirque’s Glidepoint (Easy Cat) Touchpads

The Easy Cat touchpad is a very small touchpad (although there are larger models) and is similar to a touchpad on a laptop. It requires very light (gliding) touch and tapping movements to operate with small left and right buttons. 

Logitech Marble Mouse

The Logitech Marble is a trackball with two buttons on either side of the mouse and an additional two smaller indented buttons for surfing the web, i.e. clicking the smaller buttons moves back and forward between web pages. It does not have a Drag Lock button.


If you have any comments or suggestions (or other ideas) please add them to the comments box below. 

Tags: accessiblity, mouse, motor skills,

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