Computers And People With Mobility Impairments

Below are several aspects of making technology accessible to individuals with mobility impairments. These are compiled from a guide published by the DO-IT (Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology) program of Washington University in Seattle.

Facility Access and Furniture

In order for an individual to use technology, he or she must be able to reach it. All facilities in which technology is housed must be wheelchair accessible, so the construction of doorways, aisles, and stairs must be considered.

When considering furniture, flexibility should be the priority above all else. This includes positioning of keyboards, computer screens, and table height. Specialized technology is of little use if the person who requires it cannot approach it comfortably.

Keyboard Access

The standard keyboard can prove to be a huge obstacle for an individual with a mobility impairment. However, there are many alternatives to the standard keyboard.

  • Pointers can be held in the mouth or mounted on a hat or headgear and used to press keys on a standard keyboard.
  • Placing a standard keyboard on the floor can allow individuals to use her feet for typing, rather than her hands.
  • The Accessibility Options in Microsoft Windows allows users to program "shortcuts" to multi-stroke commands as well as to eliminate repeated keystrokes caused by keeping a key pressed down too long.
  • AutoCorrect in Microsoft Word uses predictive technology to create longer words from a few initial letters.
  • A keyguard, a shield with holes drilled into it, can be placed over a standard keyboard to help individuals with poor dexterity press only the desired keys, without accidentally pressing others.
  • Mini-keyboards can be used for individuals with a limited range of motion.
  • Keyboards with extra-large keys can be used for individuals with poor dexterity.
  • Virtual keyboards, which appear as pictures of keyboards on a computer screen, allows users to simply use some sort of on-screen pointer to click the appropriate keys on the keyboard.

Alternative Pointing Systems

Just as standard keyboards can be difficult for individuals with mobility impairments to use, it is sometimes necessary to find alternative means of manipulating an on-screen pointer (such as a mouse).

  • Trackballs are easier to manipulate, and the buttons can be used without affecting pointer positions on the screen.
  • External touchpads (like those in laptops) allow a freer range of motion.
  • Head-controlled pointing systems allow individuals with good head control but limited control of limbs to manipulate an on-screen pointer.

Speech Recognition

While this technology can be difficult for some individuals with limited voice and breath stamina, as well as those with limited reading comprehension (such as younger children), it can be an ideal tool for many individuals with mobility impairments. There are two general types of speech recognition tools — discrete speech (in which the individual pauses in between each individual word) and continuous speech (in which the individual simply speaks in a normal voice).

Other Resources


DO-IT, Washington University, Seattle (2000). Working Together: Computers and People with Mobility Impairments. (Eric Digest 481 295).

This page was created by Jimmy Sarakatsannis.