Overview: Alternatives to keyboard and mouse

For people who cannot operate either a physical keyboard or mouse, several other options are available. These include voice recognition, an on-screen keyboard, head-mouse, touch screen and switch input. There is also software available for people who can move a mouse or other pointing device but have difficulty clicking, and alternatives to onscreen keyboard entry.

Areas in this guide:

Overview of switch devices

Switch input is way to communcate with your computer that combines an on-screen keyboard with one or more switches positioned anywhere near the user's body where they have reliable movement.

A switch can be of any size or shape, from a big button to a tiny microswitch, or even one that is activated by blowing down a tube or by blinking an eye.

The switch (or switches) is used to first select the line and then the column on an on-screen keyboard, which sends that keystroke or command to the programme you are using. Switches can also be used to directly operate programmes that have been specifically written for switch users.

Even if someone can only use a single switch, they can still effectively operate a computer.

Overview of automatic mouse-click software

An auto mouse-click function called KMouseTool is available with the KDE 4 operating system (for information, see the KMouseTool webpage). Otherwise, there are a variety of free and paid-for applications for Linux, Mac and Windows setups that allow you to do mouse clicks without having to actually 'click' the mouse. These can be helpful for people who have problems with clicking the mouse due to RSI or physical problems with clicking.

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Text entry using Dasher

Dasher, a free application developed by the Inference Group at Cambridge University, enables you to use a pointing device to enter text rather than using an on-screen keyboard or ordinary keyboard.

Dasher enables the creation of text by pointing into 'predicted' text. It is described as a zooming interface, with the alphabet ranged up on one side (you can customise this if you wish). You point to your letter and zoom in through it to the next likely letter, as shown in Fig 1. The further into the word you get, the more likely it is that all the letters you want will be neatly stacked up. Spaces (white with a line) are offered after each word. Experienced users can create text at 20 words per minute, which is quicker than using an on-screen keyboard.

Fig 1Screenshot demonstration of Dasher

For further information, see the Dasher Project website.

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