IDRC - Celebrating 25 Years

1993 - 2018

Continuing Our Work During COVID-19

Read the letter regarding COVID-19 by IDRC Director, Jutta Treviranus.

Linda Petty, O.T.(C)
Ed Snell, C.E.T.

Published in "Closing the Gap", April/May 1994, Vol. 13, No. 1


Support Utilities
Keyboard Response Modifications
On-Screen Keyboard
Touch Window
Single Switch Access
Morse Code Access
Miniature Keyborads
Expanded Keyboards
Word Prediction
Contact Information for Co-Authors

The Graphical User Interface (GUI) is intended to provide direct correlation between the visual stimulus on the computer screen and the desired response from the computer. The GUI and compatible software are designed to be accessed by a mouse and to require less new learning due to consistent commands/functions across software packages. As applications and functions are represented by colour enhanced, customizable pictures called icons rather than strings of text, recognition and use is promoted as more "intuitive" and "user friendly". This is certainly the case for users with limitations in word recognition and literacy; clients who are limited by muscle weakness may also benefit by the minimal typing requirements. These graphic based features minimize the training and new learning needed to install and operate software and, along with the increasing popularity of the GUI in the workplace, make the GUI an increasingly important tool for people with disabilities. Evidence of the growing popularity and importance of GUIs can be gauged from the sales of Microsoft's Windows, with over 12 million copies sold. and annual sales projected to continue at this level.(1) Sales of Windows software applications have now overtaken MS-DOS applications. 2 Large employers, including government departments and private companies, are adopting Windows as their software standard. The Apple Macintosh interface and X-Windows which runs under UNIX are other examples of GUIs which have been influential in changing the face of computing.(3) As computer prices for the Macintosh and PC drop and the use of the GUI becomes more common place, consumers, clinicians and educators need to be aware of all available GUI access technologies.

The need for accurate motor control of a mouse is inherent in those environments designed to be directly manipulated by the user. Instead of typing in long strings of hard to remember text as commands, the user clicks of icons of files or command buttons, pulls down function menus or drags files to trash can or printer icons. While direct manipulation is much easier cognitively, it has high visual, eye-hand coordination and motor demands. People with motor impairments can find the GUI an insurmountable barrier without the provision of compatible alternate access hardware and/or software. Many of the access technologies or word prediction software previously designed for the Apple II or MS-DOS systems will not function in a Windows, OS/2/2 or Macintosh environment, resulting in new product development for these environments. Some of the access technologies described in this article are utility software packages, keyboards and pointing devices marketed for the business community which have features which can be advantageous for people with motor impairments. Other products listed are designed specifically for people with disabilities and have been chosen by clients for a variety of clinical factors. The inclusion or omission of a product does not represent an endorsement or lack thereof, but merely reflects the availability of products at our centre and within our funding guidelines. Also, as other papers focus solely on GUI interfaces for people with visual impairments, those products will not be the focus of this article. The prices quoted are approximate and in US dollars unless stated otherwise.

Hardware and Software Access Technologies

Support Utilities

Support utility packages are in highest demand for the PC; Macintosh support packages are used less frequently for virus detection and disk repair. Various programs are available which customize the desktop appearance, animate icons, etc.; we have found utility programs which offer disk and file management features as well as desktop modifications to be well worth the investment.

Norton Desktop for Windows Ver 2.2 from Symantec Corp.(4) ($150)
PC Tools for Windows Ver. 1.0: from Central Point Software(5) ($165)
Provides customizable Windows shell, improved file managment with drag and drop capabilities, utilities of program viewer, trashcan, hard disk backup/optimization, anti-virus protection, disk copying, formatting, and more, all with little or no keyboarding required. Desktop features can increase ease of use; additional accessories are included which augment those in Windows.


Look for products which provide software utilities, drag lock buttons, double click buttons or programmable buttons and variable speed control.

If your brower supports tables, click here for a table of products.

Keyboard Response Modifications

Easy Access: Apple's Sticky Key, Slow Key and Mouse Key programs are built -in to all Macintosh systems. Drag the Easy Access icon to the System folder and reboot.

Microsoft's Access Pack for Windows: Supplemental Windows drivers developed by the Trace Center. Provides Slow Keys, Sticky Keys, Mouse Keys, Toggle Keys, Serial Keys and Time Out adjustments for keys. Available from the Microsoft Software Library on CompuServe as ACCP.EXE or direct from Microsoft at 800-426-9400 on disk ($20 shipping and handling fee). Northgate(14) Omnikey Keyboards: Models 102, 101N1, Ultra-F, Ultra-T offer sticky keys, adjustable repeat rate, delay rate and validation rate for keys ( costs range from $90 to $130). Settings can be saved and loaded on boot up with the Autoexec.bat file using the Omnikey Configuration Utility ($10). Moisture guards are also available ($25). OS/2 2.0 Special Needs has built in sticky key support, adjustable acceptance delay, repeat rate and delay until repeat settings which work in all OS/2 applications once turned on. Activate in the Special Needs page of the Keyboard in the System Settings folder. Sticky keys require three keystrokes to activate for each use.

On-Screen Keyboards

Look for keyboard features of adjustable size/layout, macros, word prediction, abbreviation expansion or voice output, as needed.

Word Writer from McIntyre Computer Systems(15) ($150)
Screen Doors from Madenta(16) ($440 CDN)
Ke:nx OnScreen Keyboard from Don Johnson Developmental Equipment Inc.(17)($780)

HandiKEY Deluxe for Windows 3.1 from Microsystems Software Incl.(18)($395 w/o speech,$495 w/ speech)
WiViK 2 ($275), WiViK with WP/AE ($395) and WiVox ($150 add on to WiViK) from Prentke Romich Inc.(19)
Mouse Keys from World Communications(20) ($395)
GUS! Talking Keyboard for Windows from GUS Communications Inc.(21)' ($795 with GUS! Multimedia Speech System)

Touch Window

Can provide mouse emulation and text entry with on-screen keyboard: useful with early learning software and whole word or symbol writing.
Macintosh Touch Window from Edmark(22) 22($335)
Touch Window for MS-DOS from Edmark(22) ($335)

Single Switch Access

Look for variable scanning arrays for text entry and mouse emulation.

Ke:nx Scanning from DJDE.(I7) ($780 US)
Revolving Doors from Madenta.(16)

PC & Mac
Darci Too from Westest Engineering Corp.(23)( $995)

SAW: Switch Access to Windows 3 from ACE Centre(24) ($100 serial switch box, $150 Runtime ver., $500 Designer ver.)
WiViK 2 Scanning Package from PRC(19) ($590)

Morse Code Access

Look for ease in text entry and mouse emulation: keyboard and mouse passthrough is a useful feature for some users.

Ke:nx Morse Code from DJDE(l7)

PC& Mac
Darci Too from Westest(23)
MiniMorse from Bloorview Children's Hospital(25) ($700 CDN)

Miniature Keyboards

Look for built in mouse emulation with mouse passthrough.

PC & Macintosh
Magic Wand Keyboard with McKey Mouse from In Touch Systems (26) (Mac $2150 CDN, PC $2215 CDN)
MiniMorse with Mini keyboard from Bloorview Children's Hospital(25)

Bloorview Miniature Keyboard from TASH(27) ($900 CDN) IBM version only

Expanded Keyboards

Expanded keyboards require interfaces which allow programming macros and markers.

MacintoshKe:nx with Unicorn, Concept or Key Largo expanded keyboards.
Ke:nx On:Board from DJDE(17) with the Apple Powerbook ($675)

PC & Macintosh
Darci Too from Westest(23)

Word Prediction

In stand alone word prediction software[ware packages look for variable placement, fixed and dynamic prediction and speech options.

Co:writer from DJDE(17) ($290)
Telepathic from Madenta1 (16) ($425 CDN)

Handiword for Windows from Microsystems Software (18)($350)


  1. Petrie, Helen and Gill, John. 'Current research on access to graphical user interfaces for visually disabled computer users', European Journal of Special Needs Education, Vol. 8, No. 2 1993 p. 153
  2. Fountain,T. 'Engineering with Windows 3', IEE Review, Vol 38, No. 11,1992, p.377-379.
  3. Petrie, H. and Gill, J., Ibid, p. 153
  4. Symantec Corp., 10201 Torre Ave., Cupertino, CA 95014-2132 USA. Ph: 800-441 -7234, 408/ 253 -9600
  5. Central Point Software, Inc., 15220 Greenbriar Pkwy #200, Beaverton, OR 97006-5798 USA. Ph.800-278-6657, 503/690-8090
  6. CoStar Corp., 22 Bridge St. Greenwich, CT 06830 USA Ph. 800-426-7827. 203/661-9700
  7. Kensington Microwave Ltd., 2855 Campus Dr., San Mateo, CA 94403 USA. Ph. 800-535-4242, 415/572-2700
  8. MicroSpeed Inc., 4400 Old Warm Springs Blvd. Fremont, CA 94538 USA, Ph: 800-232-7888, 510/490-1403
  9. Appoint, 7026 Koll Center Pkwy, Suite 230, Pleasanton, CA 94566 USA, Ph: 417-0611
  10. Kraft Systems Inc., 450 W. California Ave., Vista, CA 92083 USA, Ph 619 /24-7146
  11. SunCom Technologies, 6400 W. Gross Pt. Rd., Niles IL, 60648 USA Ph 708/647-4040
  12. Logitech, 6506 Kaiser Dr. Fremont, CA 94555 USA, Ph: 510/795-8500
  13. Microsoft Corp. One Microsoft[ Way, Redmond, WA 98052 USA. Ph: 800-426-9400, 206/882-8080
  14. Northgate Computer Systems, P.O. Box 59080, Minneapolis, MN 55459-0080 USA. Ph: 800-526-2446, 612/943-8181
  15. McIntyre Computer Systems, 22809 Shagbark, Birmingham, MI 48025 USA Ph: 313/645-5090
  16. Madenta Communications Inc., Box 25, 9650-20 Ave., Edmonton AB, T6N lG1 CANADA. Ph: 800-661 -8406, 403/450-8926
  17. Don Johnston Developmental Equipment Inc., P.O. Box 639, 1000 N. Rand Rd., Bldg 115, Wauconda, IL 600084-0639 USA Ph: 800-999-4660, 708/526-2682
  18. Microsystems Software Inc., 600 Worcester Rd., Framingham, MA 01701 USA Ph:800-828-2611, 508/626-8511
  19. Prentke Romich Inc., 1022 Heyl Rd. Wooster, OH 44691 USA, Ph: 800-262-1984, 216 262-1984
  20. World Communications, 245 Tonopah Dr., Fremont, CA 94539 USA, Ph: 510/656-0911
  21. Gus Communications, Inc., 1006 Lonetree Court, Bellingham, WA 98226 USA Ph:360/715-8580
  22. Edmark Corp., P.O. Box 3218, Redmond, WA 98073-3218 USA, Ph:800-426- 0856
  23. Westest Engineering Corp., 1470 N. Main St., Bountiful, Utah 84010 USA Ph: 801/ 298-7100
  24. ACE Centre, Ormerod School, Waynflete Rd., Headington Oxford UK OX38DD Ph: 0865 63508
  25. Bloorview Children's Hospital, Communication & Assistive Technology Dept., 25 Buchan Ct. Willowdale, ON M2J 4S9 CANADA Ph: 416/494-2222
  26. In Touch Systems, 11 Westview Rd. Spring Valley, NY 10977 Ph: 914/354-7431
  27. TASH, Unit 1 91 Station St., Ajax, ON L1S 3H2 CANADA Ph: 905/686-6895

Contact Information for Co-Authors

Linda Petty O T.(C) (Occupational Therapist) and Ed Snell C.E.T(Coordinator Rehabilitation Technology)
Communication & Assistive I Technology Dept.
Bloorview Children's Hospital
25 Buchan St.
Willowdale, ON
Ph: 416/494-2222
Fax: 416/ 494-2736