Contributed by an e-Access staff:
This will be a series of two blogs on purchasing and using PC and laptop keyboards based on my own experiences as a visually impaired user.
The first piece deals with some new keyboard trends and designs which for many users would seem counterproductive and plain silly.
The second blog will discuss new and very encouraging trends in keyboard manufacturing which are to do not with the looks and layout of the keyboard but the mechanics of the underlying key switches. In fact, this trend is not entirely new, but a revival of an old one. Yes, you’ve probably heard of it. I am referring to the mechanical switch keyboard.
I am visually impaired and use a screen reading and magnifying software call ZoomText to browse my PC, but the issues discussed in both these articles are not restricted to only the blind or visually impaired users.
Please note that these blogs are not a form of affiliate marketing or product placement, e-Access does not receive commission or other monetary inducements from the content of these articles.
Recently I was in the market to buy a laptop. The idea was to purchase a laptop but then also get a large monitor and separate keyboard and mouse and connect these to the laptop via a docking station. My goal was to have the portability of a laptop for working away from the home office when needed, but then the stability and ease of access for when it is time to knuckle down to some serious work.
I prefer desktops because of the versatility and connectability they offer. I usually have 3 or 4 external hard drives, USB memory cards, my beloved Bose speakers, my book reader, my iPhone, a scanner and a printer connected at all times, I also prefer to have my internet connected through a cable rather than wirelessly.
Best of all, and call me old fashioned, but I prefer desktops because I like to be able to do my work on a desk, with a keyboard and mouse and while sitting on a decent chair.
In any case, while I was busy researching technical aspects such as the pros and cons between a HDD vs SSD and I5 v I7, I did not realise that it would be the most basic of things that would come back to bite me.
Minimalism or pure madness?
When I received my laptop, I was shocked to find that the caps lock key on the keyboard was lacking an indicator light. This meant that there was no way to tell if, for example, when putting my password in, whether I had entered my password incorrectly or if the caps lock key was on.
Why? Why would Asus do such a silly thing? I kicked myself for choosing Asus in the first place. It’s a brand I have never used before and one that I never really found too appealing in the first place. I was assuming that Asus has done this to somehow cut costs at the expense of usability.
But having now received the laptop and already installed software on it, I was not about to return it and start the whole process again. I convinced myself that as I would be using it as a desktop anyway the problem should not really impact me on a daily basis, as I would be using a separate keyboard which should have its own caps indicator light.
At this point, I went back to work researching a good keyboard and mouse. I had used a certain Microsoft wireless keyboard at work and found it to be very well laid out and comfortable to use. The keyboard had a newer version out in the market with good reviews on Amazon and so I decided to go for that.
Insanity seems contagious
The keyboard arrived and I instantaneously liked the look and feel of it. The keyboard was ergonomic and felt comfortable to type on. It came with a terrific looking and feeling wireless mouse and both the keyboard and mouse could be connected to the PC using a single USB dongle hence saving USB ports. Well done Microsoft, I said to myself.
But hold on right there – upon closer inspection, I realised that this keyboard too does not have a caps lock indication light or a number lock indication light. You have got to be kidding me, Bill….
I returned the laptop and went back to researching keyboards. This time around I paid particular attention to user comments and Q&A sections on Amazon.
I found that I was not alone in this state of frustration; other users were also asking if keyboards had indication lights for the caps and num lock keys, proving that many keyboards have removed these features. Apparently this has been replaced by a pop-up bubble that appears at the bottom right hand corner of the screen when the num lock key is pressed.
As a visually impaired user using ZoomText to magnify and read my screen, I have always hated these pop-ups that either go completely unnoticed by my magnifier or are not accessible for the reader to be able to read them out to me.
These manufacturers and their overzealous R&D departments had clearly not taken into consideration the fact that this will be a problem, not just for the visually impaired users, but for everyone if at the stage of logging on to the PC the pop-ups do not appear because most features are locked out at that stage.
As if the IT geeks had not inflicted enough damage
To my shock and horror, I found that it gets even worse. There are some otherwise good and pretty expensive keyboards out there where the manufacturers have got rid of the raised bumps on the F and J keys. This is a problem if you are a touch typist. But it’s a total show stopper if you are a touch typist who also happens to be blind or visually impaired!
More often than not, we tend to buy products online and do not necessarily have the opportunity to test them out beforehand. So if like me, you feel that these trends are likely to cause not just inconvenience but outright inaccessibility then I hope that I have brought to your attention some useful information that will assist you in your next keyboard purchase. I also hope that manufacturers like Asus and Microsoft notice the challenges that have been caused by these small but significant changes and that they are able to reconsider them for future models.
Before I finish, here are the details of the offending laptop and keyboard. Please note that I have found the laptop to be excellent in every other way so far (I have only had it for a few weeks so it’s early days), and the Microsoft keyboard was really good and I was really very disappointed to have had to return it.
This should serve as a hint to manufacturers that these issues can lead to driving potential customers away from otherwise excellent products.
If you would like to know which keyboard I ultimately settled for and am very happy with then read the second blog of this two-part series on keyboards.
ASUS VivoBook K556UQ-DM1024T 15.6 inch Full HD Notebook (Intel Core i7-7500U Processor, 12 GB RAM, 512 GB SSD, NVIDIA GeForce 940MX 2 GB GDDR3 Graphics Card.
Lacking Num Lock and Caps Lock indicator lights on keyboard
Microsoft Wireless Comfort Desktop 5050
Lacking Num Lock and Caps Lock indicator lights