2000 Conference Proceedings

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There’s a Mouse Out There for Everyone

Susan E. Fridie, MS, OTR
Kornreich Technology Center
National Center for Disability Services
201 I.U. Willets Rd.
Albertson, NY 11507
Phone: 516-465-1626
Fax: 516-465-3744
Email: SFRIDIE@NCDS.ORG

S. Fuhrer, MS, OTR
Kornreich Technology Center
National Center for Disability Services
201 I.U. Willets Rd.
Albertson, NY 11507
Phone: 516-465-1626
Fax: 516-465-3744
Email: CFUHRER@NCDS.ORG

The prevalence of the graphical user interface (GUI) in microcomputer systems means that the ability to select screen locations by pointing to and selecting them has become an essential skill for microcomputer operation. Effective use of a standard computer mouse can be difficult for people of all abilities, and even more challenging for someone with a disability. Fortunately there are many alternatives that allow users with physical and cognitive deficits to operate in the world of the GUI.

Use of a mouse device involves a variety of tasks and skills:

These functions may need to be performed with either the left or right button. They are primarily cognitive and motor functions.

Therefore, anyone with difficulty with cognitive, visual, perceptual, or motor performance can experience problems using a standard mouse. This may include people with orthopedic, neurological, or congenital conditions, learning disabilities, computer-induced stresses, or non-disabled people who use the mouse a lot constantly.

Before considering an alternative to the standard mouse, there are a variety of options which may accommodate a user experiencing difficulties. One can:

When modifications to the standard mouse are insufficient, an alternative should be considered. A variety of mouse alternatives are commercially produced which are marketed to the general public, who are generally more concerned with novelty, personal preference, or conserving desk space than they are with differing abilities. Many of these mainstream devices may also be of assistance to people with disabilities. There are trackballs, mouse devices with additional buttons, trackpads, foot-controlled mouse devices, stick mouse devices, pressure pointing devices, joystick-style mouse devices, etc. The variety of configurations available makes it possible for many people to find an effective mouse substitute, usually at a lower cost than a product designed for the disability market would command.

Because of the smaller potential market, and perhaps the need to include unusual features or innovative technology, disability-specific products tend to be significantly more costly. However, they can accommodate a much wider range of functional abilities than mass-market products. People with reasonably good control over some body part can usually use a direct-selection product. They include: head-controlled mouse devices (e.g., Headmasterä , Trackerä , HeadMouseä ), eye-movement mouse devices (e.g., QuickGlanceä , The Eyegaze Systemä ), a mouth-controlled device (e.g., Jouseä ), and hand-operated devices (e.g., P&Gä Roller Joysticks and Trackballs, TouchWindowä ). For users with limited control or range of movement, who cannot use a direct-selection device, indirect-selection products are available. They include MouseKeys, scanning products (RadarMouseä , CrossScannerä ). Other mouse emulation methods are integrated with keyboard emulation programs, such as Morse code (EZKeys Morseä , Darci Morseä ), and voice (Dragonä voice products).

There is also an option to entirely eliminate the need to move a cursor and activate buttons by using the keyboard instead. Increasingly, software designers are including keyboard shortcuts to perform functions usually accomplished with a mouse. In 1997, Microsoft published Guidelines for Accessible Software Design, which include standards for keyboard access. Accordingly, Microsoft Windowsä and Officeä products are totally keyboard accessible; products by other software publishers have varying levels of keyboard accessibility.

Selection of an mouse alternative for an individual should not be a casual process. To find the best match between the user’s abilities and the many mainstream and specialty products available in stores and catalogs, an evaluation with an experienced assistive technology professional is important. During an evaluation, the consumer will:

Make a choice in collaboration with the evaluator, who may be aware of a variety of issues the consumer might not otherwise be aware of

To facilitate our evaluations of individuals with disabilities, the Kornreich Technology Center has developed a simple mouse evaluation tool and recording form. The tool permits assessment of the user’s speed and accuracy using a series of specified mouse tasks chosen because a) they are commonly used and b) they require all the tasks and skills of mouse use discussed at the beginning of this paper. Results from various mouse devices evaluated by an individual are recorded on same form for easy comparison.

With the broad range of mouse devices available, virtually anyone, even those faced with a disabling condition, can perform mouse functions in vocational, educational, and recreational environments.

In this session we will analyze the tasks involved in using a mouse with the PC and Macintosh and discuss the kinds of functional limitations that interfere with performing those tasks. We will discuss modifications which may make mouse use easier. Different hardware and software substitutes will be demonstrated, along with a comparison of their distinguishing features. Keyboard shortcuts for both operating systems will be discussed, along with Microsoft’s recent Guidelines for Accessible Software Design will be reviewed. An original mouse evaluation tool and recording form will be described and distributed to participants. Illustrated case studies will supplement the discussion.


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