Computer Mouse, Trackpad, Trackball, Keyboard… Which One to Use?

Curious cat and mouse

In our previous post “What Headphones to Use?” we talked about computer headphones, and compared a couple of different models, especially in regards to the needs of stroke survivors. Another important aspects of the computer-based aphasia rehabilitation is the control of the computer and the software. That’s were a computer mouse comes to play.

All modern computers and “graphical” operating systems (Windows, Mac OS, Linux) support computer mouse as an input device. Using the mouse, users can move the cursor on the screen, click on desired buttons or links, and initiate various actions on a computer.

People with aphasia typically have mobility problems with their right hand, which may make it difficult to use a computer mouse. If use of the regular mouse presents difficulties, there are several alternatives that may work better for people with aphasia:

  1. Adjusting the Mouse Settings for Left-Hand Use
  2. Using a Trackpad
  3. Using a Trackball
  4. Using a Keyboard
  5. Touchscreen Devices

1. Adjusting the Mouse Settings for Left-Hand Use

Both Windows (XP, Vista, 7) as well as Mac OS can be setup for the left-hand use of the mouse. This setting essentially switches the logic for the left and right buttons on the mouse. When setup for the left-hand use, the mouse’s primary button will be the one on the right side (under your left index finger).

Directions on how to setup the mouse for the left-hand:

On Windows XP

On Windows Vista

Windows 7 and Mac OS

Note: additional operating system settings allow customization of mouse functionality. You can slow-down or speed-up mouse movements on the screen, setup acceleration (the faster you move the mouse, the faster the cursor moves), setup double-click speed, etc. It may be worthwhile to experiment with different settings until you find the optimal ones.

2. Using a Trackpad

Magic Trackpad

Unlike the mouse, a trackpad allows you to control the computer with your fingers. You don’t need to move your hand at all, you just move one or more fingers over the trackpad area. Trackpads have become popular with laptops in the last several years. Last year Apple released their Magic Trackpad product, which can be wirelessly connected to any Mac computer. More details about Magic Trackpad are available on Apple’s Website.

It appears that it is possible to run the Trackpad on a Windows PC as well, but the setup process is fairly involved, so for now we will not go there.

You can try the Magic Trackpad at any Apple Store and see if you find it easier to use than a computer mouse.

3. Using a Trackball

Model of the Trackball

A Trackball is like a combination of a mouse and a trackpad. It contains a ball held in a socket, which can be rolled with the thumb, fingers, or even palm of your hand to move the cursor on the screen.

For more details on Trackballs, see this Wikipedia article.

4. Using a Keyboard

Numeric Keypad setup for MouseKeys

If the above solutions are not helpful, it’s also possible to control the cursor directly via the keys on the keyboard. Typically, the keys on the numeric keyboard will be assigned this functionality.

On Windows Vista you can setup this feature by following these directions.

Directions for Windows XP are here.

and for Windows 7, here.

It’s strongly recommended that you use a keyboard with a separate numeric keypad keys; otherwise, controlling the mouse can interfere with regular typing and become an annoyance.

Over the last few years, all of the devices we’ve mentioned above are also manufactured with Bluetooth support (Bluetooth is a wireless protocol which allows you to “connect” this device to your computer without any cables). When possible, we recommend you try using the wireless version since it reduces the clutter on the desk and makes control of the device easier.

5. Touchscreen Devices

Touchscreen devices like the iPad from Apple and a slew of tablets that are coming on the market are an interesting topic for a separate post. For now, we’ll just say that tablet computers with their easy to use touchscreens are providing much simpler ways to control the device.

What’s your experience with a mouse, trackpad, trackball, or keyboard? Or… the iPad?

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