As I type this post, I currently have six different computer mice and mouse alternatives within a five foot radius of my desk that can be used to access information on my computer and/or tablet. These are a mix of mainstream technology devices, specialty devices that are designed for users with disabilities, and mainstream tools that have been adapted for use as assistive technology. Users with low vision and visual impairment have multiple options for computer mouse alternatives and making a computer mouse easier to use with low vision, and today I will be sharing some of the most popular options for computer mice and computer mouse alternatives.
Wired or wireless computer mouse
Mainstream computer mice come in a variety of shapes, sizes, colors, and weights, so users can experiment with different computer mouse options to find one that feels comfortable for them. I use a bright colored mouse that can easily be spotted on my desk or in a backpack. Most computer mice consist of two buttons and a scroll wheel, though some newer computer mice don’t have a physical scroll wheel.
Students who are taking proctored exams may be required to use a wired/USB computer mouse as wireless computer mice are often prohibited in testing environments.
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A trackpad is another name for the tactile mouse pad on a laptop. Some users find a touchpad easier to manipulate than a traditional computer mouse as it requires less hand input and allows for gestures such as pinch-to-zoom. Touchpads can also be purchased as an external/peripheral device- the Apple Magic Trackpad is an example of one of these devices.
Some users find that touchpads are more difficult to use than an external computer mouse and may find they move more slowly with the touchpad or are more likely to accidentally activate it. Other factors can include holding the hand at an awkward or unnatural angle to use the touchpad or disliking the flat texture, with users preferring the curved shape of a computer mouse or mouse alternative.
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A trackball (sometimes referred to as a rollerball) uses a large ball that can be moved by the thumb or fingers to position the on-screen cursor. The mouse buttons are separated from the trackball, so it is easier to hold the cursor over items when clicking them with the mouse. Another configuration option is to have a trackball attached to the side of a mainstream computer mouse- these are often sold under the name “ergonomic mouse” and were a common item to find in the computer labs at my college, especially in design labs.
Trackball mouse options come in multiple sizes, and there are larger models that can be manipulated with palms, forearms, or feet instead of the fingers or thumbs.
Joysticks are another computer mouse alternative that require less coordination than a trackball and can be customized to accommodate for different grip styles. Computer joysticks typically have three switches, including a left click, right click, and a middle lock button that serves as a drag-lock so that a user can drag items across the screen.
Windows users who are interested in using a joystick as a mouse can implement this functionality with AutoHotkey, a free and open source scripting program.
I love using a touchscreen to interact with content as a user with low vision, because it is easier for me to use gestures and manipulate screen input with my fingers instead of leaning close to the screen to use keyboard or mouse shortcuts. This is especially helpful for notetaking applications and drawing tools, though there are still use cases where I prefer to use a keyboard or mouse such as when I am typing for long periods of time or editing a blog post. Touchscreens can be used with a finger or paired with a stylus.
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Blind/nonvisual computer users cannot use a computer mouse, and instead use keyboard access with a screen reader to access information on the computer, or other computer mouse alternatives like voice access or a touchscreen. However, users don’t need to have a screen reader enabled to use keyboard access, and there are many options for controlling a computer with keyboard shortcuts and hotkeys either alone or when paired with a mouse/mouse alternative. I like to use keyboard access when working with programs that have small icons in the toolbar, as I find it faster to use a keyboard shortcut than to search for an icon with a magnification tool.
Some screen reader software may override default keyboard shortcuts- reading through a keyboard shortcut guide or keyboard hotkey guide can provide insight on how to use keyboard shortcuts with a screen reader, including how to create custom shortcuts.
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Voice access/virtual assistant
Voice access (sometimes referred to as speech recognition) allows users to control their device with voice alone or when paired with other input options. Voice access tools are built into several mainstream technologies including Windows and Mac computers, as well as iOS and Android mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. There are also paid voice access software options, with Dragon NaturallySpeaking being a popular option that also works with Microsoft Office.
For users that do not need to access their device exclusively through voice but want to use voice access on occassion, virtual assistant applications such as Cortana and Siri can be used to open applications and perform other computer tasks without the use of a mouse or keyboard.
- Dragon Speech Recognition Software and Solutions | Nuance
- Use Voice Control on your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch – Apple Support
- Get started with Voice Access spoken commands – Android Accessibility Help (google.com)
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Other computer mouse alternatives for low vision
- A vertical mouse reduces strain on the wrist and features two buttons and a scroll wheel for input
- Switch access can replace the computer mouse and/or keyboard and can be operated by any body part that produces voluntary and consistent movement
- A finger mouse attaches to one finger (usually the pointer finger) and uses either gestures or physical buttons for scrolling. Some finger mice require the use of multiple fingers
- Eye control allows users to control their computer using eye movement alone, but is not a good option for people with nystagmus or involuntary eye movements. Head control is another option that allows for control over the device using head movement alone