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Escaping the mousetrap: IT support for keyboard-only users

Heard the one about the technological mousetrap?
by Clive Lever

No, not the play which has been running in the West End since the 1950s: it’s the situation that has trapped people who navigate computers using just the keyboard –not the mouse – for far too long. It’s time to solve this case.

The pace of technology change in the work place is growing ever faster, and wherever there are changes, there are inevitably teething troubles. These in turn drive up the need for people to call their technology help desks when things go wrong, or when it’s not obvious how to change software settings.

Whatever the reason for contacting them, the majority of support engineers can answer the query for mouse users in about ten seconds flat. However, when the caller says they need to perform the action using only the keyboard shortcuts, more often than not the engineer runs off to find who knows something about this, and the caller is put on hold.

When the support officer returns, his or her next gambit generally begins with the dreaded “unfortunately”, and ends with a call being logged to have the problem looked into. What happens next is someone usually emails you back the following day with the answer you would have got instantly if you had been a mouse user.

It may not be possible to consider training all IT support engineers to be experts in the detailed use of keystrokes, or in meeting the needs of people who use access technology. It would ease the frustration of those people though, if at least one member of every support team could be trained in access technology awareness and in using a computer without touching the mouse, so that we don’t risk having to wait for a day or so to get answers that would ordinarily be on hand during the first call we make.

It would also be useful if all IT support engineers setting up new software for people who do not use a mouse at least know where keyboard shortcut lists can be found on the system – by use of keystrokes.

They also need to know, at the very least, how letters are highlighted to indicate what keystrokes will perform the operation. It would even help if all IT support engineers knew that, for example, you can jump to icons on your desktop, or files in a tree structure, by typing in the first part of the names of the items. It would appear that even this is often fresh news to some technicians. So, it is so much easier to find items on your desktop named “Word”, “Excel”, “Access” “Outlook”, than it is to deal with them when all of their names have the default prefix ‘Microsoft’, because the system administrators do not know that this can be unhelpful.

One way or another, the matter of supporting non-mouse users in the workplace needs to be addressed, or we risk having a two-tier system of support, where mouse users get instant help, and non-mouse users are trapped in a slow lane of tech support.

Support query systems could even be structured so that access-related calls automatically go to the top of the queue.

Either way, IT departments need to capture and make available knowledge of the experience of working without a mouse as they acquire it,  so non-mouse users are not forced to wait unnecessarily for service while technicians go off and re-learn what should already be known.

That is the technological mousetrap: and it is time to break free.

NOTE: Clive Lever is a local government diversity and equality officer. Views stated here are his own.


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