Keyboard Knowledge

Reprinted from PN/Paraplegia News April 2014

Typing technologies have come a long way since the days of sticky keys on a noisy typewriter. As advancements brought electric typewriters and now computers, new technologies have been applied to keyboards, as well. Many of which may be ideal for people with disabilities such as spinal-cord injury or disease (SCI/D).

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Where’s the “A” Button?

It’s not new or really even a technology, but something to consider with getting a new keyboard is the layout of the buttons.

Most keyboards, whether for a computer, smartphone, tablet or old-fashioned typewriter, are laid out in what is known as QWERTY. The name comes from the first six keys appearing on the top left letter row of the keyboard and read from left to right: Q-W-E-R-T-Y.

There are other options to the QWERTY layout, but there is debate on their effectiveness. The Dvorak Simplified Keyboard (DSK) is the best-known alternative to QWERTY.

The Maltron Mouth offers quadriplegics an easy-to-use head stick set up.

The biggest difference between the two layouts is in DSK the most used English letters are concentrated in the home row where the fingers rest. This design is said to increase typing speed, decrease errors and increase comfort.

Other keyboards have their own distinct layout. So the bottom line is to go with what you like best and feel comfortable using.

Maltron Mouth

Ideal for someone with a high-level SCI/D, the Maltron Mouth sits up in a stand to be used with a head stick.

The keys are laid out differently than a traditional keyboard in order to minimize head movement while keying. The idea is to raise keying speed and relieve frustration. Push-on, push-off keys are provided for shift, control and alt.

This keyboard might be a welcome change for someone using a regular QWERTY keyboard with a head or mouth stick.

For more information, visit

Lucy 4

Similar to the Maltron Mouth, the Lucy 4 is a special keyboard for those who are living with a high-level SCI/D.

A laser-pointer is attached to glasses or a headband and users move their heads to activate the keys with the laser. It takes some practice, but people with good head control reach speeds of 120 keys per minute because of the keyboard layout, which requires little head movement.

This kind of typing-speed isn’t easily reached using a traditional head pointer, making it a great alternative.

For more information, visit

OrbiTouch Keyless

Requiring no finger or wrist movement, the OrbiTouch Keyless Keyboard is an ergonomic keyboard and mouse perfect for those with limited hand control.

Two domes easily slide in all directions to create characters. The left dome features eight sections, each of a different color, and the right dome features eight sections, each containing five different color-coded characters.

Slide the dome on the right to the section containing the desired character, and slide the dome on the left to the character’s corresponding color. The company has donated 55 OrbiTouch Keyless Keyboards to disabled veterans.

For more information visit

Find the Right Fit

All of these keyboards can prove to be quite pricey, but some people may be able to have one prescribed to them by a doctor or occupational therapist to provide greater independence.

The main thing to keep in mind is there are multiple ways of providing input to a personal computer, so do some research before finalizing a decision on which one is right for you.

One possible source for help in sorting things out may be a local college or university disabled student center, rehabilitation clinic or hospital. Veterans may want to check with their closest Department of Veterans Affairs SCI center.

Occupational therapists with specialized training in the use of technology should be available at any of these locations. They’ll often have some of this equipment on hand or can arrange to have it available for you to try — possibly even for an extended period of time.

To suggest an article topic or for more information, contact Kurt Larsen at


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