Input Devices for Physically Challenged Computer Users

Written by joshua smyth
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Input Devices for Physically Challenged Computer Users
Assistive technology unlocks computing for the physically challenged user. (computer screen with padlock image by patrimonio designs from

Computer use can be a big obstacle for anyone facing physical challenges or a disability. Basic input devices such as keyboards and mice require a significant degree of mobility, dexterity and fine motor control that may lie outside the range of possibilities for many people. Thankfully, there are many types of technology that help shrink or remove those barriers.

Alternative Keyboards

These keyboards may have key configurations that are easier to use, keys that are larger or smaller than on standard keyboards or arranged for use with one hand.

Sip-and-Puff Controls

For users who don't have effective use of their hands or limbs, sip-and-puff controllers allow operation of a computer by exhaling or inhaling, usually into a tube or straw.

Pointing Devices

These devices are used to move the cursor on the screen for users who cannot operate a mouse or trackpad with their hands. They include sensors that pick up eye movement, nerve signals or brain waves, as well as ultrasound and infrared beams.

Sticks and Wands

These devices are non-electronic. They are long sticks or rods that the user can hold in their mouth or strap to their chin, which can then be used to press the keys on a standard or alternative keyboard.


Familiar to many video game users, joysticks are sticks that steer the computer cursor on the screen. They can be built to be manipulated by hands, feet, chins or any other body part that retains sufficient mobility.

Touch Screens

These allow the user to enter data or move the cursor directly on the screen, without the need for a mouse or keyboard. They come in several forms: as additions to monitors, built into monitors and as stand-alone devices.

Trackballs and Trackpads

Trackballs are a ball built into a base. Moving the ball moves the cursor on screen and can be easier to use for those who have difficulty with fine motor control. Similarly, trackpads are flat, touch-sensitive areas on which the user can drag a finger or a pointer to move a cursor on the screen.

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