A Good Place To Begin…When the Mouse is Difficult or Impossible to Use

The mouse, which comes standard with many desktop and laptop computers, can be difficult or impossible for some people to use.  Gripping, pressing, dragging, and other required physical movements can make a standard mouse impractical. This article offers a range of mouse options to consider, from changing mouse settings, to performing mouse functions without fingers, hands, and arms. 

Understanding the purpose of the standard mouse

A standard mouse typically sits on a flat surface, has one or more buttons, and sometimes has a scroll wheel.  A mouse is used to move a cursor, the visual symbol we interact with on the computer screen.  By gripping the mouse and sliding it along the surface, the user moves the cursor to interact with “objects” such as commands from a menu, a web link, video or audio controls, and other graphical representations presented by software and/or the operating system. To interact with the object,  the user typically presses the mouse button, which in turn triggers an action.  The scroll wheel allows the user to move up or down the page on the screen, without moving the entire mouse.


Reasons the standard mouse may not work for you

Operating a standard mouse requires that the user be able to perform minimum physical and visual functions.  Physically, the user must be able to grip the mouse, move it on a table top or other level surface, and hit their target on the screen. The user must be able to press buttons with their fingers while holding the mouse in position. Some commands require that the user perform multiple actions such as grip and move the mouse while pressing and holding a button.

Visually, the user must be able to see where the cursor is and track it as it moves around the screen. The user must be able to see their target to selected it with the cursor.

When the physical or visual functions are difficult or impossible to perform, the user may consider options to performing the mouse function.  The options below are focused on physical solutions.  For visual solutions see the article Assitive Technology for People with Visual Disabilities.


Know your options

Option 1: Customizing the standard mouse

Consider using the standard mouse and altering the settings that change the shape, size, color, and movement of the cursor, and how the mouse buttons work.  Customizing these settings can make a big difference to the ease and control the user has in moving the cursor and making selections. These settings can be changed by accessing control panels in your current operating system.


If you have the Windows operating system, try altering the Mouse Control Settings.  Review the online video, Microsoft Windows: How To Change Your Mouse Settings,  to learn how to locate mouse settings and get some tips about optional settings.

If you have an Apple operating system, try altering the mouse settings within the Universal Access  control panel.  See this online video, OS X Keyboard and Mouse Accessibility, for a thorough demonstration of how to make optional mouse settings.  


Option 2: Using a better fitting mouse

Consider replacing the standard mouse with another that is a better fit for your hand. These mice are  designed to function the same as the standard mouse but come in a variety of shapes, angles, sizes, and response. 


There are many alternatives to the standard mouse that comes with your computer, offering a choice of mouse size, shape, and button location.

Some mice are ergonomically designed, easing fatigue and discomfort that can occur for some users with a standard mouse.

Selecting a wireless mouse can extend the distance of the mouse to the computer, connecting without a cable. This can be especially helpful for individuals that might use alternative surfaces such as a lap tray, or bed table, for example.


Option 3: Using an alternative to the mouse

Consider an alternative to the mouse that enable the user to perform mouse functions using slightly different movements than the standard mouse.


Trackballs requires less wrist and arm movement as the user rolls a ball within a socket to move the cursor on the screen.  The trackball is stable, making it easier for some users to operate the buttons.

A trackpad is a tactile surface that allows the user to move the cursor on the screen by dragging their finger along the pad.  These are commonly found on laptops.  A trackpad, paired with gesturing software, can allow the user to interact with the computer by using a combination of finger movements.

 A joystick has a vertical handle for the user to grip and pivot, moving the cursor on the screen.  These are commonly used as game controllers but can be effective for users with limited range and motion.

Touch screens enable the user to navigate and move the cursor by directly pointing and touching a tactile sensitive screen.  This can be a highly intuitive means to operate the computer for users who have good finger dexterity.

The Mouse Keys control panel, available in the Apple and Windows operating system, enables the user to move the mouse using the keyboard numeric keypad as a directional device. 


Option 4: Alternatives for those who have limited hand and arm movement

Consider performing mouse functions with devices that are controlled by parts of the body other than fingers, hands, and arms.


Speech recognition allows the user to control the mouse by voice commands. This method requires that the user have the ability to recognize computer errors, make ongoing corrections, and read at a 6th grade level. 

Head tracking systems enable the user to operate the mouse with head movement and a switch for clicking the button.  This is typically used by individuals who have limited physical movement in their arms, hands, or fingers but do have good, strong head control.

Switch access refers to the control the computer by activating a switch when choices are presented.  The mouse can be operated  in this way,  typically by someone who has limited physical movement, or cognitive challenges.  

An eye gaze system enables the user to control the cursor with their eye movement.  This is commonly reserved for users who have few other dependable voluntary movements.


Related articles

Accessible Mice

Large Computer Pointers/Cursors

Assistive Technology for People with Limited or No Use of Their Hands

Speech Recognition Software

Free Computer AT Already in Macintosh Computers

Keyboards for Users with Dexterity Impairments

Touchscreen Use and Accessibility Issues

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