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Typing text without a keyboard

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On-Screen Keyboards

An On-Screen Keyboard (frequently abbreviated to OSK) is a visual representation of a standard keyboard that can be installed on any Windows computer.

Who would use them?

Many users who struggle to use a keyboard are able to use a mouse, rollerball, joystick, headpointer or other pointing device. Many OSKs can be accessed by switches for those with more severe physical difficulties.

The flexibilityof their visual display combined with audio output makes some OSKs suitable for people with visual impairment as well as physical difficulties.

A few OSKs can read keys aloud when the mouse pointer is hovered over them. This feature can help users with cognitive difficulties, including severe cases of dyslexia.


An On-Screen Keyboard needs to have many access options to be able to cope with a wide range of physical needs. Useful access features include:

  • Dwell delay (for users who struggle to use the mouse button)
  • Single switch access (see animated demonstration - requires Flash)
  • Two switch access (see animated demonstration - requires Flash)
  • Row/column scanning (for more efficient scanning)
  • Advanced scanning options (such as overscan)
  • Visual accessibility options (resizable keys, changeable colours and fonts)
  • Audio output (including when scanning with a single switch)

As a general rule the more access features the software has the more expensive it will be. All OSKs provide the user access to the letters of the alphabet, numbers, some punctuation and other common keyboard keys. Other feature-rich keyboards offer the facility to make your own 'keys' that can perform much more advanced tasks such as launch a program or even operate environmental control.


Typing on an on-screen keyboard can be slow and some switch users in particular can only produce a few letters a minute. Prediction allows words to be completed automatically and can greatly increase the overall typing rate for slower users. Dasher's prediction is slightly different in that it works letter-by-letter rather than word-by-word.

Further Information

You can read my reviews comparing various On-Screen Keyboards, including lots of information on the uses and limitations of the free Windows XP OSK and Click N Type options... [more]

You might also want to check out Chapter 7 of the CALL Centre's External Link free ebook on Special Access Technology:

Try an On-Screen Keyboard now

A basic OSK is bundled free with Windows XP and as such it is likely to be already installed on the computer you're currently using.

Windows XP's built-in On Screen Keyboard

Windows XP's built-in On-Screen Keyboard can usually be found under:

Start > All Programs > Accessories > Accessibility > On Screen Keyboard

If you struggle to find it you can run it manually using the Run dialog:

Start > Run > type "OSK" > press ENTER

Now find out more about the Free Windows XP OSK or other On-Screen Keyboards.

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