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Accessing Computers Using On Screen Keyboards

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On–Screen Keyboard
On–Screen Keyboard

The ability to manipulate the computer cursor using a mouse or other pointing Peripheral can allow computer access for individuals who do not have sufficient control to use a standard keyboard. By moving the mouse pointer over a visual representation of a keyboard that appears on the computer screen, a character may be selected by producing a simple button click or alternative selection method. The character is then placed onto a running programme as if it had come from the computers own keyboard. Using an on-screen keyboard to bypass the standard keyboard is not a new solution. However, recent products offer options that can accommodate for a wide range of Motor, perceptual and cognitive limitations.

Options to change the size of the display window, individual keys or characters as well as the size and appearance of the pointer are features which may enhance targetting skills for individuals with visual as well as motor limitations. Passive selection of a key by “dwell time” or “autoclick” may be an essential feature for individuals who are unable to produce a button click independently. Some on-screen keyboards even offer scanning input with switch(es) for individuals who are unable to navigate the mouse but are able to depress a switch to select a key that is highlighted. These features may be critical for individuals with a degenerative condition as they lose function or conversely, a child progressing through physical or developmental milestones would benefit from the ability to change these options.

Since most users of on-screen keyboards use a single digit on a mouse or limited movements with an alternative pointing device, rate enhancement techniques and options to customize the keyboard layout should be available to enhance speed of output and avoid fatigue. It should be possible to select a keyboard layout that is arranged according to frequency of use or to design a more efficient pattern other than the standard keyboard. Word prediction or abbreviation expansion are rate enhancement techniques that attempt to decrease the number of keystrokes required when generating text by predicting or encoding words. These techniques may be built into the programme to avoid having to purchase separate packages and to ensure compatibility.

The biggest improvements made by developers of on-screen keyboards are features that decrease visual, perceptual and cognitive demands. In addition to the options for changing the size of keyboards, it is now possible to change the colour of a key or background, and to customize visual feedback or auditory feedback. Useful options that may enhance visual access of the on-screen keyboard include click feedback or speaking keys, to indicate the selected key. To accommodate for cognitive or languages needs, the ability to incorporate picture communication symbols, whole words or phrases on a keyboard layout, supports students at various literacy levels to achieve greater independence in text generation.

Within the last five years, there has been an increase in the number of on-screen keyboards available for Windows and Macintosh based systems. The costs for these programmes range from $300 to $500. While these are average costs, there are low end, on-screen keyboards offered as shareware or freeware, as well as high end keyboards with extra options that are priced well over $1000. Potential users should first establish the desired pointing device; for example, mouse, trackball, headpointer, etc. and selection method; for example button click, alternative switch or dwell/autoclick, before comparing the features of more than one on-screen keyboard.


Fong-Lee, D. (1993). Visual keyboards. Canadian Journal of Occupational Therapy, 60, 102.

Hecht, J. & Heinisch, B. (1998, October). A comparative overview of on-screen keyboards. Presentation at the Closing Gap Conference, Minneapolis, MN. USA.

By Dianna Fong-Lee
This article and reviews originally appeared in the May/June 1999 issue of Occupational Therapy Now magazine published by the Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists. techNote:

No one should pay for an on-screen keyboard (osk)!
There are many FREE osk out there. My NEW & FREE favorite osk is the Click-N-Type v3.01. It’s Great! CNT offers many features you can’t get anywhere else like, Minimize when not in use and word prediction. That brings me to my OLD favorite, my backup, the Microsoft’s OSK. This osk is also free and probably already installed on your computer. – Michael Feger

Try Click-N-Type v3.01:

To start Microsoft’s OSK:


  1. Hi.
    I recently downloaded something to make the OSK bigger. It got bigger but is ugly. Can you tell me how to reset it?
    I refer to the default OSK on XP. No big deal, just getting on my nerves,

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