How to use the on-screen keyboard in Mac OS X

This page explains step-by-step how to turn on and use the on-screen keyboard in Mac OS X. An on-screen keyboard may be the best way to input information if you have a physical condition that makes using a keyboard difficult but you are able to use a mouse or other pointing device.

An on-screen keyboard looks just like a picture of a keyboard on the screen. Letters can be selected from the keyboard using a mouse, a single switch or a joystick.

Note: The following abbreviations for keys on the Mac are used: Ctrl is used for the Control key, Apple is used for the Command key, and Alt is used for the Option key. For keyboard access, make sure 'Full keyboard access' is turned on - you can turn it on or off by pressing Ctrl + F1 at any time.

Use the on-screen keyboard in Mac OS X

Step 1: Set up the on-screen keyboard

Make sure you are in 'Finder'. If necessary, press Apple + Tab to cycle through the open applications until you return to 'Finder'.

Click on the 'Apple' icon on the menu bar or press Ctrl + F2.

Click on 'System Preferences', as shown in Fig 1, or press the down arrow key to highlight it and then press Enter.

Fig 1'Apple' drop-down menu

Click on the 'International' icon, as shown in Fig 2, or press Tab repeatedly (you might need to press Ctrl + F7 first) to cycle through the icons until the 'International' icon is highlighted and then press the Spacebar.

Fig 2'System Preferences' window

In the 'International' window (Fig 3), make sure the 'Input Menu' tab is selected. If it is not, click on it, or press Ctrl + F7 to highlight one of the tabs and then press the left or right arrow key to select it.

To turn the Keyboard Viewer on, tick the box next to 'Keyboard Viewer' by clicking on it (there is no keyboard shortcut for this).

Tick the box next to 'Show input menu in menu bar' by clicking on it. Or press Tab until it is highlighted and then press the Spacebar to tick it.

Fig 3'International' window

Click on the 'International' window's red close button or press Apple + W.

Step 2: Turn on the on-screen Keyboard Viewer

To view the keyboard, click on the 'International' (flag) icon near the upper right corner of the menu bar. Select 'Show Keyboard Viewer' from the drop-down menu as shown in Fig 4. (There is no keyboard shortcut for this).

Fig 4'International' (or 'flag') drop-down menu

The on-screen keyboard (shown in Fig 5) will appear and float over all applications.

Fig 5On-screen keyboard viewer

To make the keyboard larger, click on the green '+' symbol on the keyboard.

Back to How to guides - I find a keyboard or mouse hard to use

More ways to: Make your keyboard easier to use

Change the keyboard settings on your computer

Control the pace of repeated keystrokes and avoid miss-keys

Use the keyboard with one hand

Set it so you don't have to hold down multiple keys at once

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