What are they?
Many people with disabilities use the keyboard instead of, or in addition to, the mouse when interacting with computers. They may also use external keyboards to interact with smartphones and tablets. Keyboard support is essential for those who use screen readers, as well as for many people with motor disabilities such as muscle dystrophia, or temporary disabilities such as broken bones or repetitive stress injuries.
Some people with disabilities use standard keyboards, while others used adapted versions. For example:
- Single-handed keyboards.
- Keyboards with Braille relief for visually-impaired users who know Braille.
- Keyboards with larger keys, for people with visual impairments as well as people who have limited control over their hands.
- Colour-coded keyboards, useful for many people with visual or intellectual disabilities.
- On-screen digital keyboards, useful for people who can’t or prefer not to use physical keyboards. On-screen keyboards can then be operated with the mouse or some kinds of assistive technologies, such as switches, physical pointers, and eye and motion trackers.
You’re probably familiar with common keyboard shortcuts such as:
- Command-Tab (Mac) or Alt-Tab (Windows) to switch between applications.
- Command-Z (Mac) or Control-Z (Windows) to undo.
- Command-C (Mac) or Control-C (Windows) to copy.
- Tab, Enter, and Space to navigate and operate websites.
Depending on the user, their needs, and the assistive technologies they use, keyboard operation may be done with these very same standard keyboard shortcuts or may involve more complex keystrokes.
Ensuring keyboard support is one of the cornerstones of digital accessibility. You can learn more about how to do that on our keyboard testing page.
- Keyboard-Only Navigation for Improved Accessibility by Marieke McCloskey (2014)
- Keyboard compatibility on the W3C website
- Keyboard Accessibility by WebAIM
- Keyboards for People with Disabilities on Better Living Through Technology (2016)
- Keyboard and mouse alternatives and adaptations on AbilityNet