Save the numeric keypad — don’t trap the MouseKeys!

Once again, a popular technology article is useless to me. This time it asserts that the cursor keys on the number pad have no function. Obviously, it was written by a mouse user. Because you can’t send in letters to their editor anonymously, I am anonymously posting my hypothetical letter here just so I can vent.

Dear Mr. Kurtz,

I always enjoy your “Tech Man” articles. However, I wanted to bring your attention to something you said in “Keyboard makers should delete some useless keys,” regarding the cursor keys on the number pad. For those of us who are physically unable to use a mouse and depend on the keyboard, it’s actually crucial that the keypad and the NumLock key have 2 states. This is because many of us use the Mouse Keys Windows accessibility option.

The most important Mouse Keys setting is that it be active when the NumLock key is off. This way, what controls the blinking cursor for you controls the mouse cursor for us. For us, the arrow keys and the keypad arrows are not identical. If we try to use Mouse Keys when NumLock is on, we lose the ability to enter numbers with the keypad. This is often inconvenient because some of us also use the Firefox add-on Mouseless Browsing, which relies on the numeric keypad for accessing links and fields. Also, users of Dragon NaturallySpeaking or Windows Speech Recognition make use of the number pad (and Mouseless Browsing) in the same way to write voice command macros.

I mention this because computer designers generally listen more to able-bodied people, which sometimes results in decreased accessibility for disabled people in the name of “progress.” If keyboard designers started making such a change widely across their merchandise, it would make things needlessly less accessible.


Hand to Mouth

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