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  7. Physical and Motor Disabilities

Physical and Motor Disabilities

Physical and Motor disabilities include weakness, muscle control limitations (including tremors, coordination issues, involuntary movements, and paralysis), limitations of sensation, joint problems, pain that impedes movement, or missing limbs. People with physical or motor disabilities often use specialized hardware and software including specially-designed keyboards or mice, head pointers, mouth sticks, or other aids to typing, on-screen keyboards, voice recognition, eye-tracking, and and other approaches to hands-free interaction.

Examples of disabilities

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Design considerations

When we design for physical disabilities we must provide:

  • The ability to access everything through a keyboard, in case that’s the only access the user has.
  • Time to type, click, or carry out other interactions that might take much longer for these users than for others.
  • Systems that don’t require hitting multiple simultaneous keystrokes to activate commands.
  • Large touch areas and forgiving interfaces for those who have trouble clicking small areas.
  • Error correction options and type-ahead options for forms.
  • Visible indicators of the current focus and the ability to skip over page headers or navigation bars.

When designing for users with physical or motor disabilities we need to:

  • Make large clickable actions.
  • Give form fields space.
  • Design for keyboard or speech-only use.
  • Design with mobile and touch screens in mind.
  • Provide shortcuts.

We need to avoid:

  • Demanding precision movements.
  • Bunching interactions together.
  • Creating dynamic content that requires a lot of mouse movement.
  • Short time-out windows.
  • Tiring our users with lots of typing and scrolling.

Assistive technology

People with physical disabilities are likely to use assistive technology. Examples include:

  • Keyboards
    • Expanded keyboard with inset keys (to ensure the user’s digit will fall into the key hole and hit only that key).
    • One-handed keyboard (for when only one hand is available).
    • Vertical keyboard with mouth stick (for when head movement is available).
  • Speech-Recognition Software
    • Dragon (Dragon Naturally Speaking).
  • Switches
    • Sip-and-puff devices.
    • Switches that monitor check muscle movements.

Christopher Hills demonstrates security features and faster typing using a head switch in macOS Mojave.

Christopher Hills teaches how to set up the new Head Pointer features in the latest version of MacOS.

Additional resources