Pointing Devices


Pointing devices are computer input devices that allow a user to get spatial data into a computer. In other words, pointing devices allow users to move a cursor or other indicator to a location on a computer screen. Pointing devices are often combined with switches in order to operate a computer, just as switches are typically used by individuals with physical or intellectual disabilities to make using communication and electronic devices easier (Coyne, 2004). A number of common pointing devices are described below, though certainly not all the pointing devices available on the current market, therefore it is important to contact an Occupational Therapist to determine which system and what settings are the most appropriate for each individual.

There has been some research examining different pointing devices and their effectiveness for individuals with physical impairments; however, there does not appear to be any research exploring their use in the classroom. Bachmann, Weichert, and Rinkenauer (2015) examined a new contact-free input system allowing users to interact with their computer using gestures, but found that traditional mouses were superior. The authors did suggest, however, that it is important to consider the best fit of the tool with an individual. Walsh, Daems, and Steckel (2017) ran experiments on a proposed head-mounted camera that can be used as a pointing device for individuals with limited hand/arm movement and control. The authors reported there is promise for devices of these types, as they were successfully able to interact with the computer using them. However, this research was only a pilot test of the possibility of using a head-mounted device, and has not been directly tested on individuals with disabilities (Walsh et al., 2017). In another study, Senanayake, Goonetilleke, and Hoffmann (2015) directly compared participants’ performance using a mouse, a pen mouse, a touch screen and a graphics tablet. The authors found that the mouse was superior when it came to movement time and error rate, therefore, it seems that the most widely available tool performed the best.


Research Rating: There is some available experimental information on pointing devices, however much of this information is focused on development of new products rather than classroom use. The research on each individual tool should be consulted in order to determine the best fit for the individual.



  • May be the only way than an individual can interact with a device; allow individuals with physical or intellectual disabilities to communicate or interact with their environment (Coyne, 2004)

  • Many pointing devices are widely available (e.g., mouse, trackpad) and may encourage independence for individuals with disabilities (Shih, Hsu, & Shih, 2009).



  • May require intensive training over a long period of time (Shih et al., 2009)

  • Individuals with developmental disabilities can learn pointing using a mouse, but individuals with severe physical disabilities may have greater challenges because they have not been designed with their specific needs in mind (Shih et al., 2009)

  • Pointing devices may be very costly and depending on the style may be difficult to obtain, limiting their use by people with disabilities (Shih et al., 2009).


To Consider

  • Different pointing devices make different requirements of human abilities. Therefore, it is important to consider the compatibility between device characteristics and the abilities of the user (Bachmann, Weichert, & Rinkenauer, 2015). Contact an Occupational Therapist to determine which system and what settings are the most appropriate.

  • It is important to consider the ergonomics of pointing devices to ensure comfort and safety for individuals who use them often (Nag, Pal, Nag, & Vyas, 2009).

Special Consideration: Workflow

OS Compatibility
Internet Reliance
Optimized Use

Exact prices change frequently, which is why only approximate ranges are listed. 

$ - Under $5

$$ - Between $6 and $50

$$$ - Between $51 and $250

$$$$ - Over $250



Bachmann, D., Weichert, F., & Rinkenauer, G. (2015). Evaluation of the leap motion controller as a new

contact-free pointing device. Sensors, 15, 214-233.


Coyne, D. (2014). Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) guidelines for speech pathologists

who support people with disability. Retrieved from http://www.adhc.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/file/0011/302402/Augmentative_and_Alternative_Communication_Practice_Guide.pdf


Nag, P. K., Pal, S., Nag, A., & Vyas, H. (2009). Influence of arm and wrist support on forearm and back muscle activity in computer keyboard operation. Applied Ergonomics, 40, 286– 291.


Senanayake, R., Goonetilleke, R. S., & Hoffmann, E. R. (2015). Targeted-tracking with pointing devices. IEEE Transactions on Human-Machine Systems, 45, 431-441.


Shih, C., Hsu, N., & Shih, C. (2009). Assisting people with developmental disabilities to

improve pointing efficiency with an automatic pointing assistive program. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 30, 1212–1220.


Walsh, E., Daems, W., & Steckel, J. (2017). Assistive pointing device based on a head-mounted camera. IEEE Transactions on Human-Machine Systems, 47, 590-597.


Written by Bronwyn Lamond, Last Revision May 2018​