Mouse by Keyboard

Mouse by Keyboard
Mac Tip #430, 31 March 2010

There are many reasons why you may prefer to move the cursor around your screen with the keyboard, rather than struggling with a mouse, trackpad, or other input device. For one thing, it lets you keep your hands on the keyboard.

In this Tip I show you how to move the cursor around on screen using only the keyboard.

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The Universal Access System Preference Pane

Universal Access System Preference.

The Universal Access System Preference Pane.

The Universal Access System Preference Pane allows you to set up your Mac in various ways to give you more flexibility about how you interact with the machine.

The Mac can read menus, dialog boxes and text aloud, flash the screen and change its contrast, and you can customise how you work with keyboard and mouse.

Go to the Apple menu and choose System Preferences…. Once the System Preferences… window opens click on the Universal Access item in the System row.

Mouse & Trackpad Preferences

In the Universal Access preferences click on the Mouse & Trackpad tab. The Mouse & Trackpad preferences allow you to set up using the keyboard to move the cursor around the screen.

Turn Mouse Keys on

To use the keyboard instead of the mouse check the On radio button beside Mouse Keys.

Use Mouse Keys

If your keyboard has a Numeric Keypad — a separate set of keys just for numbers — you can now use those number keys to move the mouse.

If you have a laptop with a built-in keyboard you also need to activate the ‘secret’ numeric keypad. Look carefully at the following keys. You should see a small number marked in the bottom right corner of the key: 7, 8, 9, u, i, o, j, k, l, m, ..

That set of keys includes the full-stop — not immediately obvious when you view the list.

To type those characters from the numeric keypad on a MacBook keyboard either:

  • Press and release the Num Lock key. The light in the key shines when it’s engaged. When you type those keys the ‘secondary’ character will be active. Press and release the Num Lock key again to release it.
  • Hold the fn key at bottom left of the keyboard while you type a numeric keypad character.

Which Mouse Keys do what

If you type any of those numeric keyboard characters with Mouse Keys activated the mouse moves around the screen. Here’s how they correspond:

Action Shortcut
Move up 8 (8)
Move down 2 (k)
Move left 4 (u)
Move right 6 (o)
Move diagonally 1 (j), 3 (l), 7 (7), and 9 (9)
Click the mouse button 5 (i)
Hold down the mouse button 0 (m)
Release the mouse button Full stop / Period (.)

If you find the keys move the cursor too slowly use the Initial Delay and Maximum Speed sliders in the Mouse & Trackpad pane to speed them up.

Notice that you can also turn Mouse Keys on and off from the keyboard if you check the box beside Press the Option key five times to turn Mouse Keys on or off.

Try out Mouse Keys and see how you like using them.

Tell us in the Comments if you use Mouse Keys and how well it works for you.

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  1. Corey said:

    I’m trying to turn on mouse keys because I DON’T have a mouse to use :)
    However, everything I’ve read says to click the button. I can navigate all the way to the universal access mouse preferences screen, but I have no way of clicking the “on” button.

      • Corey said:

        Unfortunately my cursor is still stuck in the finder window of system preferences. Ctrl F7 didn’t seem to change anything. I can navigate through other option of the system preferences menu, but specifically the universal access mouse is not allowing me to tab through. I’ll have a mouse today, and my problems will disappear. I will also learn to keep a backup mouse around, and enable the 5option click to set up mouse keys. Thanks for trying.

  2. Armando Hinojosa said:

    I’m new to the MAC. THESE ARE MY PROBLEMS:

    1. SUDDENLY, AS JUST HAPPENED, THE KEYBOARD SWITCHED TO ALL CAPS. I CAN’T CHANGE IT TO NON-CAPS no matter how many times I press the caps lock key.

    2. When I’m in Excell or Calc, the cursor keys for navigation will move the entire workbook (page) not the cursor.

    How CAN I CORRECT THESE PROBLEMS. I hate having to use the mouse to navigate to different cells.

    • Miraz Jordan said:


      if your keyboard is switching to all caps for no apparent reason then either something is accidentally triggering the caps lock or the keyboard is faulty.

      Do you have an extra keyboard plugged in (e.g. if you have a laptop)? Is something resting on or touching the Caps Lock on either keyboard?

      Do you have any other devices plugged in? Is the keyboard connected via wire or perhaps by Bluetooth? Could something else be interfering with the signal?

      Try some basic troubleshooting: make sure you’re using an Apple keyboard, and only one, preferably connected via cable. Does the problem still occur? If so, then it sounds as though the keyboard is faulty.

      If not, then change one of the variables – e.g. connect via Buetooth instead of cable. See what happens.

      You should be able to narrow things down.

      I’m afraid I can’t help with the Excel problem as I don’t use it. Perhaps it’s related to your keyboard problem?

      • armando.hinojosa said:

        Thank you for your response. I’m just using one keyboard. I don’t have anything else plugged or connected to the MAC. There is nothing else resting on it. It’s a wired keyboard, so I can’t try the non-wired options.

        Something else is happening now. It making sounds! Whenever I press the shift, alt, options, or apple key, I get a sound! Then the mouse cursor disappears! I have to go through the entire keyboard (it seems like it anyway!) before the cursor appears. I’m really frustrated! I never expected a MAC to be so bewildering!

        • Miraz Jordan said:

          Armando, be assured that is not typical behaviour for a Mac!

          I think I know some of your problem. Go to System Prefs – Universal Access – Keyboard and make sure Sticky Keys is set to OFF. Look carefully at the other settings in there too.

          If Sticky Keys is off and you can see that all the other settings should mean your keyboard behaves properly then I suspect your keyboard is faulty. See if you can borrow a keyboard and try it on your machine.

          • Armando Hinojosa said:

            THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU! I’ve gotten control of my caps again! The sounds are still there, though! In Excel, the cursor arrows still move the page not the cursor, but at least I’m not going in and out of caps on whim!

            Once again, THANK YOU!

  3. Skrounge said:

    Great tip. Learning to become a touch typist & I am already a keyboard enthusiast. Seeing as my Apple Extended II (w/ glorious ADB and all) sitting on top of my 17″ 2010 MBP makes accessing the trackpad a bit tricky, this tip really helped out. Many websites do not optimize for tabbing, gleebox only helps out most of the time, and some programs/apps simply require the mouse. Now I do not have to move the keyboard or set the laptop in a funny place to use a good keyboard and my laptop at the same time. (try a _good_ old keyboard, its amazing how much better they were built and how much better they feel). Btw, I do generally use a mouse, just not when I want to post up on the couch.

  4. Miraz Jordan said:

    Ross Mxt emailed me the following comment and gave permission for me to add it here:

    An interesting reminder of this keyboard facility, but not one that I would imagine using. Its greatest use would be for someone who was an expert touch typist from those days that are now passing rapidly. It is certainly not faster than the mouse or trackpad.

    There are so many variations available when operating the Mac that it becomes quite impossible to keep them all usefully in mind. My advice to any Mac user is to learn those shortcuts, etc. that one finds appealing, to stick to them for the most part, become proficient in their use and then expand one’s repertoire only slowly.

    As an aside, if one finds locating the mouse/cursor on some screens rather difficult, an alternative to enlarging the cursor is to download a utility called “Mousefinder”. It has only occasional usefulness but it is rather cute.


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