Sticky Keys: Not Just for the Disabled Anymore

February 07, 2005

Although the accessibility feature sticky keys has been around since the dawn of modern operating systems (and quite possiblity before that), it wasn't until recently, when I was playing with one-handed typing, that I discovered their value. At first, I couldn't figure out how I would be able to type uppercase characters or combo commands using the one-handed typing. When I came across sticky keys, it all came into focus. The solution. Sequences.

What frustrates me, and probably the reason I didn't discover them earlier, is that they are always documented as a feature for disabled people who are unable to press two keys down at once. I have found that, in fact, they are so useful that I believe they should be considered a feature for all users. Many key combinations make you do finger acrobatics just to get all the keys down at once. Even those moves that don't require such stretching are much simpler when done in sequence.

Sticky Keys are availabe in both KDE and Gnome. Even if you have two good hands, definitely it a try. Your mangled wrists will thank you.

Update: Thinking back to my grade-school days, I recalled an experiment that was done in which the proficiency of finger movement was observed when one finger was held fixed contrasted with finger movement of a free hand. The impaired speed is explained by the workings of the sympathetic nervous system. The nervous system is attempting to move the coorelated digit, but since it is restricted, it affects the performance of the intial movement.

Piano players and guitar players alike must combat this effect through training, which is apparently possible to overcome. Regardless, enabling independent key strokes for combination commands will almost always out perform typical counterpart.

Posted at 09:15 PM in Usability | Permalink Icon Permalink

1 Comment from the Peanut Gallery

1 | Posted by Dan Allen on January 11, 2007 at 12:49 AM EST

It turns out that Pepper Software decided to go with the sticky key approach when implementing the QWERTY keyboard for the Pepper Pad 3. Since the keyboard is divided in half, flanking the screen, and intended to be operated with your thumbs, holding down an accelerator key would be extremely awkward, if not impossible. Instead, any key clicked after registering a click with an accelerator key is interpreted as a key combination. In my mind, this behavior is second nature. After using a keyboard this way, you begin to see the "normal" operation of holding down multiple keys at once like trying to play twister with your keyboard.