Skip to 0 minutes and 2 secondsVOICEOVER: Akibe a student at University Paris 8. He's studying cinema and already directed several short films. He operates his motorised wheelchair with a joystick located near his big toe. He's using the same joystick to operate his computer through this small device, which drives a mouse.

Skip to 0 minutes and 25 secondsA button located under his chin allows him to click. In this way, he can log in, start the software application he needs, like a word processor, a web browser, or an email software.

Skip to 0 minutes and 41 secondsTo enter text, he uses a virtual keyboard displayed on the screen that he operates with a mouse by clicking on keys.

Skip to 0 minutes and 55 secondsThe word prediction feature, as in a mobile phone, allows him to save a lot of time. A lot of people use alternative pointing devices. It can be, as for Akibe, a joystick fixed wherever the person has some voluntary motor control. Other people may use systems driven by mouth, by eye gaze, or many other systems adapted to their capabilities.

Different ways to access the desktop

Desktop input is typically done via keyboard and mouse. Desktop output is typically done via screen. However there are many people who use alternative access methods to these.

Watch how Akibe, a student from the University of Paris 8, operates his desktop computer using his big toe and his chin.

Alternative Input

Other alternative access technologies include:

Speech recognition

Input via speech recognition where the user speaks and the computer translates this speech into text and commands via a process of speech recognition.

Eye-Gaze technology

Input can also be done via eye-gaze technology where the user looks at different data elements on the screen. The technology works out where on the screen the person is looking and the associated data is passed as input to the computer.

Switch Access

Switch access is another form of input. This works using a selection grid, for example an on-screen keyboard, which is scanned. When the item the user wishes to select is highlighted, he presses a switch which completes the selection. There are many forms of switch access and these can be attached to the muscle group over which the user has most control. They include hand switches, foot switches, mouth switches, eyelid switches, skin switches and many more.

Alternative output

Typical output is to a screen as we tend to view content on the computer. There are many ways we can adjust screen output. We can magnify it using magnifiers. We can change background colour and increase font size.

Speech output

Speech output is the most common form of alternative output. Typically this is used with screen readers which speak the text, commands and web content and other output that usually appears on the computer screen. Speech output is sometimes referred to as Text to Speech or TTS where just the text in a window is read and this usually suits those who have reading difficulties rather than loss of vision. Many of the voices used to be very robotic sounding, but a lot of research is going on to make them sound more natural.

Braille output

As well as screen and speech there are other forms of output such as Braille. This can be output to Braille printers (embossers) or to Braille displays which provide a tactile form of the 6 dot characters through round-tipped pins raised through holes in a flat surface.


When designing applications we must not presume that input will only be via keyboard and mouse or that output will just be to a screen. We must allow for the fact that users may require alternative input and output mechanisms.

In week 3, we will explore in greater depth the various input and output methods available for mobile devices.

Do you have any experience of using any of these types of input and output devices? Are there any other types that you know of?


© This video is created by Université Paris 8 Vincennes Saint-Denis and licensed under CC-BY 4.0 International Licence. Erasmus + MOOCs for Accessibility Partnership.

© This text is a derivative of a work by Dublin Institute of Technology and Université Paris 8 Vincennes Saint-Denis, and licensed under CC-BY BY 4.0 International Licence adapted and used by the University of Southampton. Erasmus + MOOCs for Accessibility Partnership.

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This video is from the free online course:

Digital Accessibility: Enabling Participation in the Information Society

University of Southampton