Alternative physical keyboards

Alternatives to conventional keyboard design and layout can offer many different ways to access a device. Alternatives range from built in keyboard accessibility features to split keyboards to adaptable keys and beyond.

Adjustments can be made to the accessibility options of a computer to change the sensitivity of the keyboard or prevent characters from being entered multiple time with a single key press for example. And sometimes a different physical keyboard may be more useful.

Ergonomic keyboards are the most popular keyboards available. The ergonomic design of the keyboard allows for minimal muscle strain and may reduce the risk of a repetitive strain injury.

A fixed-split keyboard has keys separated in 2 to 3 groups, allowing the user to type at different angles rather than at one angle found on straight keyboard. An adjustable split keyboard has the keyboard split in a number of pieces so the angle can be easily changed.

There are a wide range of other keyboards and accessories including the following:

  • Large print keyboards
  • Large key keyboards
  • Colourful keyboards
  • Keyboards with different layouts, such as QWERTY, ABC, Dvorak
  • Miniature keyboards
  • Expanded keyboards
  • One-handed keyboard
  • Chording keyboard
  • Keyboards that allow keys to be programmed to perform certain functions
  • Keyboards with customizable and printable overlays (add or delete keys, add text or graphics to keys, group keys by colour or location, or increase visual contrast by changing the key size and colour)
  • Illuminated keyboard
  • Braille keyboard


  • Keyguards
  • Keyboard seals or skins
  • Keycap labels

Consider the following when choosing an alternative keyboard:


    • How do you want the keys to be arranged, i.e., is it QWERTY, ABC or Dvorak layout? Can it be adjusted?
    • What is the size of the keys? How many keys are available on the keyboard?
    • Is the keyboard design fixed, split or adjustable?
    • Is a keyguard needed? Is it available?
    • Are the keys recessed or do they protrude?
    • Is it handheld?
    • Are there any positioning requirements? (e.g. Is the angle of the keyboard adjustable? Does it have its own mount?)
    • Is it programmable? (i.e. can you customize keys to perform specific commands/actions?)
    • For programmable keyboards, does it have different overlays? How easily can you create macro commands?
    • How much force is required for key activation?
    • Does it provide tactile feedback when a key has been pressed?
    • Will the student be typing with one hand or two hands?


    • Are there any visual, hearing, cognitive or developmental differences that may impact the ability to use the keyboard? (e.g. Does a student need a specific colour combination or layout to support their vision or act as a cue?)
    • Do you need to adjust any settings within the computer’s operating system (e.g. sticky keys)?
    • How easy is it to take with you if portability is required? (e.g. size, weight, carrying case, battery life, power source, connection). Consider back-up options if transporting the device is not feasible.


    • Does the device require a driver and if so, does it have a driver for your computer or device’s operating system?
    • How does the keyboard connect to your computer or device? Is it a wired or a wireless connection such as USB, or Bluetooth?


    • What is the warranty available for the technology? How are repairs handled? (e.g. is there someone in your area?)
    • How do you access support if you need it? Is there a technician in the school or a local vendor that can be reached by telephone or email?


Manufacturers of Alternative Keyboards

Links are provided for information purposes only. SNOW does not endorse any of the following software or hardware.


Applied Human Factors, Inc 

BigKeys Company

Comfort Keyboard Systems


In Touch Systems

Kinesis Corporation


Maltron Ltd.


TypeMatrix, Inc.

Zygo Industries, Inc.

Did you know? There are built-in keyboard features available for free on your computer. Learn more about the accessibility features of your computer here.

Additional Links

KeyXL – Provides you with keyboard shortcuts for various programs for Windows, Mac and Linux platforms.