How to turn on and customise the on-screen keyboard in Windows Vista

This page explains step-by-step how to turn on and customise the on-screen keyboard in Windows Vista. 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 'Ease of Access Center' has replaced 'Accessibility Options' (which was used in earlier versions of Windows) in the 'Control Panel' of Windows Vista. For more information, read the Introduction to the Ease of Access Center.

Video how to guide

Text version

Using the on-screen keyboard in Windows Vista

Using the on-screen keyboard in Windows Vista

Step 1: Use the on-screen keyboard now

Open the 'Ease of Access Center' window by pressing the Windows key + U, or by clicking the 'Start' button, followed by 'Control Panel', then 'Ease of Access', then 'Ease of Access Center'.

Under the 'Quick access to common tools' header, click 'Start On-Screen Keyboard', as shown in Fig 1, or press Alt + K. This will start the on-screen keyboard for current use.

Fig 1Detail from 'Ease of Access Center' window

Step 2: Set the on-screen keyboard to start every time

Follow these steps to make the on-screen keyboard start automatically when you log in.

Open the 'Ease of Access Center' window as in step 1. Under the 'Explore all settings' header, click on 'Use the computer without a mouse or keyboard' (Fig 2), or press Tab until it is highlighted and then press Enter.

Fig 2Detail from 'Ease of Access Center' window

Under the 'Type using a pointing device' header, tick the box next to 'Use On-Screen Keyboard', as shown in Fig 3, or press Alt + K to tick it. Click the 'Save' button or press Alt + S, to finish.

Fig 3'Use the computer without a mouse or keyboard' window

Step 3: Customise the on-screen keyboard

Once the keyboard is on screen, you can tailor it to suit your needs. Click on 'Keyboard' in the menu bar, as shown in Fig 4, or press Alt + K.

Fig 4On-screen keyboard, showing drop-down menu

There are several ways you can customise the keyboard. Click on the options you prefer in the drop-down menu (either Enhanced or Standard Keyboard, and either Regular or Block Layout). Alternatively, press the key noted below for each of the following options.

Step 4: Choose a keyboard type

Press S for 'Standard Keyboard'. This does not include the numeric keypad, so takes up less space on your screen. The example in Fig 5 shows how it looks with 'Block Layout' (see below) selected.

Fig 5Standard keyboard with Block layout

Press E for 'Enhanced Keyboard'. This includes the numeric keypad and resembles a typical physical keyboard, as shown in Fig 6, when 'Regular Layout' (see below) is selected. The example in Fig 7 shows how it looks with 'Block Layout' (see below) selected.

Fig 6Enhanced keyboard with Regular layout

Step 5: Choose a keyboard layout

Press B for 'Block Layout'. This displays keys in vertical and horizontal rows, which will give you a clearer layout. The example in Fig 5 shows how it looks with 'Standard Keyboard' selected, while Fig 7 shows it with 'Enhanced Keyboard'.

Fig 7Enhanced keyboard with Block layout

Press R for 'Regular Layout'. This gives you a keyboard display similar to a physical keyboard, with overlapping rows. The example in Fig 6 above shows how it looks with 'Enhanced Keyboard' selected.

Note: If this does not work it could be because your computer settings cannot be changed due to local IT policies - contact your local IT support for further help.

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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