Keyboard Options

Overview

This module discusses computer keyboard options for students who have difficulty using a standard keyboard to access the computer. We review commercially available "Plug and Play" keyboards that require little time to set-up and may be more accessible for students with disabilities. Information on many of these keyboards is provided in our handout on Keyboard Vendors. Other information includes portable notetakers, various keyboard layouts and typing tutorials.

For students who have difficulty using a standard keyboard, we offer a variety of alternatives. These are often available at local computer stores or through the resources provided. However, they may not provide a complete solution for some students. For other keyboard and mouse access options, see our Module on Specialized Input Systems.

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Standard Keyboards

image of a standard keyboardIt's easy to take for granted just how complex the standard keyboard truly is. Think of its major components:

  • One hundred and four keys (85-90 keys + numeric keypad) that are only ½ inch square and spaced closely together (19mm).
  • Grey or beige keys labeled with ¼ inch capital letters. These small key labels are not centered on the keys.
  • A key layout in a "QWERTY" configuration that is designed for typists (it reflects the first 6 letters of the top letter row), not in alphabetical order.

These features can be troublesome for students with visual, motor, and/or cognitive needs.

 

Plug & Play Options

When the standard keyboard does not meet a student's needs, several others may be substituted, including many commercial "off the shelf" options.

Alternative keyboards come in an array of sizes and with different layouts. For schools with a variety of computers, look for USB keyboards that can be used on either Mac or Windows based computers.

Know which features your student truly needs. For example, consider whether the student needs to use all of the keys. Some keyboards are designed for children with fewer keys, colored highlights or have different layouts. What size keys/keyboard is needed? What type of layout is best? Look for ergonomic design features such as built in wrist rests.

Child Design Keyboard

KidzMouse Keys (KidzMouse)
KidzMouse Ears
With fewer keys than an adult keyboard, 67 rather than the standard 104, this colorful USB keyboard is appealing to children. The essential keys included with KidzMouse Keys are grouped according to their function. Also available are plug and play child size head phones of excellent quality.


Typing Tutors

Several typing programs teach finger position and movement to help students learn to touch type. Features to look for include text-to-speech, game-like formats, graduated learning structure and different levels of difficulty. We provide a descriptive list of popular typing programs.

Typing Tutors for One-Hand Users

This site on one-hand-typing provides information on keyboards, layouts and special software programs.

Resources from the Learning Studio

This site offers links to favorite copybook programs, computer keyboard tutors and writing software.

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Compact Keyboards

Compact keyboards have smaller keys, fewer key choices or a more "compact" layout. Some include a built-in track ball and/or wrist rest. These may be a better choice for smaller hands or for older students with a limited range of motion. These keyboards typically feature 65-90 keys with 15mm key spacing. Rather than a separate numeric pad, the numeric keys are embedded within the alphanumeric keys. A toggle key turns them on and off.

Examples

Little Fingers Keyboard (DataDesk Technologies)
Little Fingers Keyboard ImageThis keyboard is re-sized to fit the hands of the children, with smaller key size and spacing. Its built-in trackball and wrist pad provide additional support. A standard keyboard can be used simultaneously when adults need to use the computer. (Mac, PC)

Lil' Big Board (DataDesk Technologies)
Lil' Big Board ImageThis compact keyboard and numeric keypad (30% smaller than a standard keyboard) has color-coded key caps for often-used keys. The backspace and return keys are enlarged. (Mac, PC)

Low Profile Compact Keyboard (Infogrip, Inc.)
Low Profile Compact Keyboard ImageThe Low Profile Keyboard is a compact 101 style keyboard measuring only 11.1" x 5.2". The keypad and function keys are embedded into the keyboard to cut down on size and key travel. (PC only)

Compact Keyboard and Touch Pad (Crystal Visions Technology)
Compact Keyboard ImageThis compact keyboard is only 11" X 5". It can be ordered with a touch pad for mouse access. The white letters on the black keys may be easier to see for some students. (PC only)

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Ergonomic Keyboards

Ergonomic keyboards ensure safe and comfortable computer use by providing additional supports to prevent repetitive muscular injuries. Although most are made for adult-sized hands, some features may be considered at any age. They may be particularly useful to students needing keyboards with physical adjustment capabilities.

Examples

Vertical Split Keyboard (SafeType, Inc.)
Vertical Split KeyboardVertical keyboards take the standard keyboard's hand sections and place them upright. This "hand-shake" position is considered the neutral posture for forearms and hands. This split-keyboard is designed laterally into vertically arranged cooperative keypad halves. This allows the student to sit with the keyboard directly on her lap or on any surface. (PC)

Bat Keyboard (Infogrip, Inc.)
Bat KeyboardChording keyboards are smaller and have fewer keys, typically one for each finger and possibly the thumbs. Letters, numbers, commands and macros are simple key combinations, also known as "chords." Instead of the usual sequential, one-at-a-time key presses, chording requires simultaneous key presses to type each character, similar to playing a musical chord on a piano.

The BAT keyboard is available for one and two-handed users. It includes an efficient chording system for typing. Keyboard units and configurations include both left and right hand options. (Mac, PC)

Kinesis Keyboard (Kinesis Corporation)
Kinesis KeyboardThis contoured keyboard fits the human hand by setting the keys in two concave "bowls" on either side of the keyboard. Minimal finger movement is required. Arms and hands are fully supported, so touch-typing is necessary. (Mac, PC)

DataHand Keyboard (DataHand Systems)
DataHand KeyboardWith the DataHand keyboard, each hand has its own "pod". Each of the four fingers has five switches each: forward, back, left, right, and down. The thumbs have a number of switches. You never have to move your hand to use the keyboard. A finger-mouse is also built-in.

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Mini Keyboards

These reduced keyboards have keys in closely arranged order. They are helpful for students with significant weakness or a limited range of motion in their hands or arms. They can be used with head or mouth pointers. A stylus is often used in place of fingers.

Examples

MacMini or WinMini ( TASH International, Inc.)
WinMiniThis small keyboard is activated with minimal force. Use with fingers or pointers. It includes all keys and mouse commands. Layout options have QWERTY or Frequency-of-Use choices where the most frequently used letters are placed toward the center of the keyboard. (Mac, PC)

 

The Magic Wand Keyboard (In Touch Systems)
The Magic Wand KeyboardThe Magic Wand provides both keyboard and mouse control with only slight hand or head motion. It acts as both the computer keyboard and mouse, and requires no strength and little dexterity. Read our example of a student who successfully used the Magic Wand Keyboard.

Free loans are available through the company. (Mac, PC)

 

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Enlarged Keyboards

Enlarged keyboards are larger versions of the standard keyboard, in whole or in part. Larger keys provide an easier target for students to locate and activate.

Examples

My First Keyboard (Kidtech Inc.)
My First KeyboardThis keyboard has enlarged the key size for smaller hands and significantly reduced the number of keys on the keyboard. It has 55 clearly labeled keys, including the alphabet in natural order, numbers from 0-9, and shapes. Young children quickly learn the color-coding: yellow keys for letters and green keys for numbers. (PC only)

Big Keys Plus (Greystone Digital)
Big Keys PlusThis enlarged keyboard with 1-inch square keys, (4X bigger than standard keys!) comes in both the alphabetical layout and the standard QWERTY format. Either format can be ordered with multi-colored or white keys.

IntelliKeys Keyboard (IntelliTools, Inc.)
IntelliKeys KeyboardThis flexible keyboard meets a wide variety of learning needs. You can change the way IntelliKeys looks and functions by simply sliding in a different overlay. Each of the standard overlays has a bar code that is instantly recognized by IntelliKeys, so no previous "set up" is necessary. IntelliKeys comes with six standard overlays that are ready to use with any word processing program or software that requires a keyboard. Switch users can choose from two built-in programmable switch jacks. The keyboard can be further modified for additional products. (Mac, PC)

Hint: Keyboard Connectors
The new iMacs no longer have the ADB (Apple Desktop Bus) ports, but have instead, the USB (Universal Serial Bus). However, many of the peripherals such as IntelliKeys do not come with a USB plug. Griffin Technology has developed an adapter with driver software to address this problem. The least expensive ADB to USB adapter can be found at AlphaSmart ($20.00) under product accessories.

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Cordless Keyboards

These keyboards use infrared or digital radio technology to connect remotely to the computer. No cords or wires are needed.

Examples

Cordless DesktopCordless Desktop (Logitech Inc.)
Uses radio technology so that you do not have to be in a direct line with the computer. You can work as far as six feet away. It includes a wheeled mouse. (PC only)

 

Mini Wireless Keyboard (Fentek Industries, Inc.)
Mini Wireless KeyboardThis compact (11" X 6") wireless keyboard includes 88 keys with an embedded numeric keypad and 12 function keys. The keyboard communicates with the computer via built-in Infrared technology with transmission capabilities of up to 23 feet. (PC only)

 

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3-D Keyboards

As children benefit from manipulative experiences, keyboards are available that combine hands-on experiences with real life toolsets and computer software. Two fun examples follow. Children with cognitive delays may find these options particularly useful.

Examples

Easy-Bake Kitchen Keyboard (Hasbro Interactive )
Easy-Bake KitchenThe Easy-Bake Kitchen keyboard fits over most standard Windows® keyboards. The colorful key-top play set provides a kitchen counter full of helpful appliances, including a mixer, bowl, measuring cup, rolling pin, oven dial, cookie cutter, cake decorator and mini-oven. The cooking utensils on the keyboard control the onscreen action, making it easy to make, bake, decorate and play! It promotes the actual use of baking tools. The software lets kids print their final creations, plus party invitations and real recipes to bake at home!

Tonka Workshop Playset (Hasbro Interactive )
Tonka Workshop PlaysetThis Tonka™ Workshop Interactive Playset provides five hands-on tools including a hammer, saw, and sander. As the child uses his sander on the keytop, he will see his work come to life on the computer. Complete hands-on jobs; work on vehicles, rockets, clubhouses and more. Build structures, vehicles, robots and crazy contraptions in three workshop areas.

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Portable Notetakers

When selecting keyboards, portability is often an essential feature for students with disabilities. When notes need to be typed in the classroom, a portable notetaker has several advantages. It can work as a note-taker when battery-powered and then connect to a computer to download the information. It can also serve as a keyboard to input information directly to a computer. Because these devices are compact and lightweight, students can use them anywhere and anytime.

Examples

AlphaSmart 3000 Keyboard (AlphaSmart, Inc)
AlphaSmart 3000 KeyboardThis portable word processor has a 4 line LCD screen and full-size keyboard. One student or an entire classroom of students can write, take notes, practice keyboarding, and then easily transfer the materials to a computer for formatting and editing. It includes a spellchecker and can interface directly with a printer. The 3000 model provides for the use of applets to further extend its capabilities. (Mac, PC)

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DreamWriter 500 (Brainium Technologies)
DreamWriter 400This dedicated word processor includes full formatting capability and direct printing. Designed as a beginner keyboard, it features a simplified keyboard and large font display with an icon based menu. The DreamWriter® I.T. allows students of all ages to send and receive e-mail, navigate the Web and run specially developed curriculum software.

Laser PC6 (Perfect Solutions)
This notetaker uses an infrared receiver to send files to a computer with one keystroke and without connecting any cables. 4lines of text can be seen at one time. The PC6 also includes Word Predict, a Spell Checker, Typing Tutor, Homework Calendar, Spreadsheet, 2 Databases and Calculator. A text-to -speech add-on is also available.

Digital NotebookDigital Notebook (Perfect Solutions)
This full color affordable laptop provides complete word processing features including a full range of fonts, Spell Checker, Thesaurus, graphics capabilities, among others.

 

CalcuScribeCalcuScribe (QWERTY)
This notetaker/keyboard offers both 8 and 16 pt. fonts. Information can be sent to a computer or "beamed" (with infra-red connection) to other CalcuScribes, computers or printers. Includes ability to copy/paste text and spellcheck. Also includes a MathWiz for typing math expressions (algebra and trig.) or for simple arithmetic.

HINT: Keyboard Connectors
To use any of the above (Macintosh-version) notetakers that do not have an USB (Universal Serial Bus) connector, you will need an adapter when connecting them to an iMac computer. Griffin Technology has developed an adapter and driver software to address this problem. We have found the least expensive ADB to USB adapter at AlphaSmart ($20.00) under product accessories. The drivers can be downloaded through the Griffin website.

Resources

dyslexic.com's Portable Word Processors
This UK article compares 3 popular notetakers.

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Keyboard Layouts

Alphabetical Dvorak

It is important to consider the physical layout or organization of the keys when selecting alternate keyboards. The standard keyboard is designed with a "QWERTY" layout, modeled after the typewriter. This layout, however, may not be ideal for non-typists or young students and may not be the most efficient design for students with single side use.

Alphabetical

Some keyboards are available with an alphabetical layout design, which students just beginning to use the computer for writing may prefer. Often keyboards with an "ABC Layout" also have larger keys. This design reinforces and builds on the student's experience with the alphabet while making the keys easier to find. It emphasizes letter location, not efficiency. (The first two examples were also described under Enlarged Keyboards; they contain both features.)

Examples

Big Keys Plus (Greystone Digital)
Big Keys PlusThis popular keyboard comes in several versions, all with large keys. ABC layouts can be ordered in color or in white with black key labels. Directional arrow keys are in logical order. (Mac, PC)

IntelliKeys Keyboard (IntelliTools, Inc.)
IntelliKeys KeyboardThis flexible keyboard comes with six standard overlays. The alphabet overlay has larger key areas spaced farther apart for more controlled access. It is often used for early writing activities. (Mac, PC)

 

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Dvorak

This layout is designed for students who are able to write but who need a more efficient typing system. The keyboard design places most frequently used keys closer to the stronger fingers. It also is available in right and left-hand only layouts, making the keyboard more accessible to persons with a single functional hand.

Dvorak keyboard layout

 

  • Several keyboards can be purchased with this keyboard layout.
  • Windows '95, '98 and 2000 includes this keyboard layout option through the Keyboard options in the Control Panel.
  • Software utilities are available that provide the means to redesign the standard keyboard into a different layout.

In all cases, the keyboard needs new key labels to identify the new key functions.

Dvorak Tutorial

If you are interested in learning to touch-type using the Dvorak keyboard layout in as little as 5 hours, a tutorial program, Master Mind Typing Tutor, is available at the Dvorty Boards site.

 

Keyboard Layouts for One-Hand Users

This site on one-hand-typing provides information on keyboards, layouts and special software programs.

 

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